Crowns of the New World

©Mandible|Photography 2014
©Mandible|Photography 2014

I stand in the middle of the forest, looking around myself. It’s around 10 o-clock in the morning, and the fog has stubbornly clung to the earth, blanketing us in its cool un-precipitated rain. All around me, birds squawk and scream and sing, chirping from the branches. Chickadees huddle in little lines along the branches, and blue jays cling to the bark of the tall aspens, glaring down at me, the crowns on their heads standing tall. They expect a tribute, and I’ve forgotten to bring anything.

In the highest canopies, crows sit peering down at me on the faded earth, their heads cocked in half inspired curiosity.

I readjust the pack on my back, and pull my water bottle out from the side pocket as quietly as possible. These birds make it known that I’ve invaded their space.

The world is quiet now, and I travel alone because it’s easier than dealing with the people it has left behind. Narcissistic dictators tore down the world they tried to build in their image when the world fought back. I look around me. There’s a fallen tree, still fresh. The wood is green and wet from the rain that’s fallen for two straight weeks. I walk to it and sit down. I close my eyes, and listen to the noises around me. So absent of humanity, there’s a peace here in the mountains. I fled the valleys and the flatlands to avoid the roaming bands of raiders. No one comes to the mountains anymore.

I hear rustling in the bushes behind me and snap my eyes open. It’s an animal, low to the ground, shuffling through the ferns.  I watch with interest and a taste of fear, always aware that my end could come from the wild I’ve confined myself to than from the humans I run from. A lone red fox peeks his head out from the underbrush and looks at me, lifting his nose to sniff the air. I sit still.  The fox seems healthy.

He avoids me, moving to the far side of the downed tree and moving slowly around its broken trunk, peeks at me again. He sees that I have as yet not moved and sniffs the air again.

He is wary of humans, as most animals still are. I think on that. Perhaps in the future they will no longer fear humanity. I feel confident in saying that our sun is setting. The fog and the rain offer an apt image of our twilight.

I sit quietly, watching him. Some small birds flutter near the underbrush, and he turns his attention to them.  He is looking for food.

I watch as he crosses the old hiking path and slips back into the heavy ferns that drape themselves lazily over the earth. I decide to move on.

I move up the northern face of Camel’s Hump.  I am headed south, towards warmer weather. Since I’ve delegated to stay alone and stick to the mountains, I often take the hardest route. Most of humanity is still caught up in ease, entitlement.  They take the easiest route and expect the world to hand itself back to them. But now that we’ve turned on ourselves, the world has removed herself from our grip, and I don’t expect she’ll hand herself back to us.

I know that the summit is only an hour away, maybe half an hour if I can pick up my pace.  I move slowly now, taking my time.  There is no urgency in the mountains – not like there is in the valleys.  I often find myself tracing my fingers along the bark of trees that are now free to grow tall, unobtrusively leaving the trail to sit for awhile among the ferns. I realize, with more reality than in my past life, that my life is fleeting. For so many others it fled at the beginning of humanity’s tyranny, but I was lucky enough to find my way out.  I say I was lucky because that’s truly what it was. I knew enough of surviving outdoors to make my way through the blooming wild in the valleys of the new world, but I survived by trial and error. I still survive by trial and error. This is all calculated chaos, and I am at its mercy.

I said for years I wanted to hike more, without ever really following through. I smile. At least now I’m achieving something I always wanted.

I am lost in my thoughts as I wind up the path, sometimes opting to venture off track and appreciate the lack of humanity. In the summers, this mountain used to be covered in people, tourists, like leaches, sucking its lifeblood out by stealing its spirit. Seeing it now, no longer obfuscated by the nature of humanity, the mountain’s spirit has perforated the air and the trees around me. Everything sways and dances with any breeze. They always stood so stiff and stern while we moved among them before, and now they are relaxed, free from our chains of bondage.

I start to climb up to the top, rounding a corner and coming upon the last rocky ledge before the summit.  The fog creates a shifting curtain, with blue sky and sun now shifting carefully between thick swathes of the mist. It’s eerie to watch clouds move around you, moving upwards into the sky. I step carefully on the ledge, pressing my back against its craggy face and shuffling along, careful to make as little noise as possible.

I reach the end of the ledge and move carefully up the smoothed rock summit, still wet from last night’s rain. I sit down, unconcerned with the dampness. For a moment, I think that I can hear the mountain humming, but it stops as soon as I try to listen. I smile. The earth has taken to communicating with itself again.

I look out at the valley, still blanketed in places, moving swiftly here and there to reveal thick swaths of healthy pine and aspen trees, the white birch in the lower valleys sticking out like great totems, bones of the earth marking passage to a new world.

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