We’ve been driving for a few hours and I’m crazy to get out of the car. I am not a sit-in-the-seat, stare out, do nothing for hours kind of person, and thus am ill-suited for road trips, though I’ve somehow been coaxed into a car for days at a time to drive across the U.S. Twice. Stoytcho finally agrees to a rest break, and we pull into a turnout somewhere in the Northland next to a grassy slope.
We poke around for a few minutes and discover a narrow trail leading down past the grass into the trees. We don’t see any fences or signs, so we follow it into the shade of the underbrush. Though the heat of the day is sweltering, here it’s blessedly cooler. And downhill the going is easy, though the trail narrows to hardly a footpath.
At the bottom of the hill we break out into the sun again and find ourselves on a grassy strip between the trees. This is probably a transient stream, filling with water when it rains. But for now, it’s ours to explore.
We wander through the grass exploring, stretching our legs and poking our noses around just for the heck of it. There are little surprises, like the husk of a cicada left after molting…
And then there are the larger surprises, like these bizarrely-shaped boulders that dot the landscape. Sculpted by water and adorned with plants, they greet us every few meters, each with a unique shape and personality.
There are some live surprises, like this cicada who buzzes by to say hello…
…or this mysterious bird that tempts us deeper into the woods. He lands on a branch near us, singing loudly and waggling his tail. As I approach to photograph him, he flits off to another branch deeper in the underbrush. When I don’t follow, he returns to the first branch, calling to us again. We follow him this time and he leads us a few meters before we find the brush too thick to pass. Yet even as we turn back, he chirps to us, calling us forth to an unknown destination. Maybe next time, little friend.
After nearly an hour of exploring, we decide it’s time to head back. As we return to the trail we came in on, the wind begins to blow we notice the forest around our little clearing for the first time. The trees around us sway, and a chorus of whispers and creaks issues from the branches above. They appear to be leaning toward us, examining the intruders into their land, and though it’s daylight I feel the hairs on my neck rise. I silently ask them to pardon our intrusion, thank them for their hospitality, and bid them farewell. Then it’s up the narrow dirt path, back to the road, the car, and our world.