She didn’t remember that grove of trees. Which, you are quite right, is ridiculous. How can a grove of trees look any different than another grove of trees? She wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the low branches hitting the ground at the wrong angle. Or maybe it was the wildflowers around it that looked different. She knew something was wrong.
Perhaps it was the way the light streaked through the foliage, like a sword had cut it. The shadows cast by the slowly disappearing day danced on the forest floor in a way that was similar yet distinct from the way it did on her regular path.
She stopped, paying attention to the noises of the woods. People think nature is quiet but that’s only because you’re away from humans. There are no traffic noises, no mechanical sounds except for the odd chainsaw in the far distance reminding you that no matter where you are, someone else is there too. Every now and then you could hear a gunshot. Maybe there were hunters in the area. But they had to be quite far, given that there weren’t any animals worth hunting (if that is even possible) around here. Certainly in the forest you don’t hear people arguing. And that’s very refreshing.
But the forest is very loud. There are buzzes and cries and yelps and wings flapping. Footsteps, too. Soft and steady. Confident, even.
Overhead, robins compete with hummingbirds to see who can fly faster. It always surprises city folks when they see hummingbirds dart between trees on their way to a feeder or a flower. They are like fighter jets with feathers. Their long beaks act like a missile, and the buzzing sound they make as they fly enchants her.
She’d been there before, she was sure of it. The grove of trees right around the corner from the rocky outcrop that leads to the dried-up river on the way to the cliff. She’d hiked there many times with her daddy. She knew there was supposed to be a big rock there, covered with moss and on the underside of it a whole bunch of porcupine poop.
Except there was no rock, no moss, no porcupine poop.
She cried out, “Dad!?! Daddy!?? Can you hear me???” But all she heard was the sound of the ospreys hunting above her head and the snapping of dry twigs under her boots. Her mom said ospreys were more elegant than turkey vultures, but she wasn’t sure she should agree. She was just eight years old, and the birds never came close enough for you to have a good look at them when you’re that age. Which was probably a good thing.
She turned left, just past the big birch tree. She figured she’d find her way back to the cottage that way. There was a small escarpment that led to the back of the old privy. They used it as a shed now that they had indoor plumbing but she never liked going in there because she was afraid her weight might be sufficient to destroy the old creaky floor and send her to die a slow death asphixiated by dry excrements left by humans long gone.
She knew there should be a bay on her right where the underwater electrical cable connected their island to the main grid and the rest of the world. She didn’t understand how a cable that ran both under water and underground could give their little place power like in the city, but she just took it on faith that it worked as advertised, especially when she wanted to watch cartoons on Netflix. Mostly it did, except when there were nasty storms. Then not much worked; no internet, no toilet, no fridge. These were good times to read comic books by flashlight.
The thought of reading quietly by the wood stove had her reassured. She would find her way back, right? It would be silly to be lost on that island anyway. It had been in their family since she was a toddler and she was very familiar with it. Why, just now she knew she’d be at the bay where the electric cable…
Shit. There was no cable. There was water alright, she was on an island after all and if there’s one thing islands are famous for, it’s being entirely surrounded by water. But it wasn’t the bay she expected. Her breath caught in her throat. She’d get in trouble for making her parents worry.
In her panic, she forgot the first rule of survival in the woods, which is to stop moving if you think you’re lost. She started running she knew not where. Mostly in circles, really. What did you say, Mom? I’m sorry I wasn’t listening. She ran and ran until the inevitable happened; she tripped on a root and slammed head-first into the ground.
“Honey! Are you OK?” Her mom had heard her cry when she took the laundry back in. “What are you doing anyway? Come in, it’ll be time for dinner soon.”
And the little girl picked herself up slowly. She didn’t understand by what sorcery she’d been transported back to her backyard like this.
Forests are great, she would remember all her life, especially at making you feel alone.