(If you haven’t read Part ONE : “Maybe it was my frame of mind that compelled me to revisit that big, bad forest, the place I’d once said you couldn’t pay me to go back to. Weighted down by emotional darkness, ruminations run amok, I craved privacy, someplace where I could feel what I feel, where no one would question what they couldn’t understand. But why this place, especially when a sense of foreboding unsettled me so? Unable to change my own mind, and well aware that dramatizing worst-case scenarios is a symptom of living a fear-based life, I straightened my posture and feigned confidence as I threw items into a small day-pack…” (continue here)
Before I knew it, I was following the path they determined Annie had chosen to make her way to the cliffs. Water washed noisily over rocks in the stream running alongside the trail. Without warning, I felt myself drowning; my chest tightened, lungs barely allowing small, scant breaths. I don’t want to die. I walked faster. Keep moving, you’re okay; you’re not in the water. It was a river that took my stepbrother’s life when we were both 12. One foot in front of the other, my vision blurred as my eyes filled. What am I doing here? Why in the hell did I come? Glancing around uneasily, seeing that the trailhead was no longer in sight, I began to dilly-dally. No one said you had to do this! Annie was the crazy one. She had a no-holds-barred zest for living, and look where it got her. Sighing dejectedly, I pulled my coat tighter. My shoulders slumped, directionless. What will happen if I turn back now?
I continued on the path, Annie’s path, deeper into the woods.
The ground was uneven, pitted with rocks and roots, spongy with nature’s decomposition of leftover wildflowers and deciduous trees. The once majestic amassment of summer color now lay in thick layers of decaying leaves. I hadn’t noticed any wind before I ventured into the forest, but now, it rustled through the tree branches and carried the smells of pine needles, animal scat, rotting wood, and oh, the air, so fresh, crisp, clean.
Deeper into the woods is where it happened. Or should I say I happened? When an almost giddiness replaced my fear. My lungs filled with glorious air–how had I taken breathing so for granted? I let my head fall back and stared into the sun slicing its way through the lush canopy of evergreens. Ropey vines snaked their way from the underground, circling and encasing the towering trees, reaching for snatches of blue sky. I carefully stepped over rocks and downed trees covered in wild mushrooms as well as moss in shades of yellow, greens, and black that to the touch felt like patches of velvet. It hung from trees like an old man’s beard. The muted hum that had filled my ears got louder the further into the forest I went. Rounding a bend, the sound turned into a roar. And there it was, a powerful force of nature that from a distance sounded tranquil, but close up, deafening, a thunderous command to stop, listen. And stop, I did. The waterfalls were many houses high, cascading down the mountainside, crashing over boulders adding to the vaporous mist that hung over the plunge pool below until it wetted my hair and clothing like rain. I sat on a fallen tree, closed my eyes and allowed the sound of the falls to block out the pain I had held so close, rendering me unable to see the forest for the trees. Could the answer have been in my own backyard all this time?
You weren’t crazy, Annie. Your love of life, for nature, drew you to challenge yourself. I can only imagine, in the moments before your life ended, you had the biggest smile on your face, your heart ready to explode with happiness and gratitude for what nature provided you. You couldn’t wait to get home to share your photos and your experience that day with others. And now, here we are a couple of years later, and you have touched yet another stranger, taught her that it’s impossible to find the good things life has to offer if you don’t step out of your comfort zone. And that if nothing you’ve tried before works, try going back to where it all started: nature. Thank you, Annie. ~frankie