Impatiently, Samantha walked ahead, leading out in front of everyone else on the trail. The ferns and bushes on the sides of the trail sometimes brushed against her as she walked, but she was careful to avoid stinger nettles. She moved uphill and around rocks along the trail with a rhythm in her step that made her feel light and deer-like. She often looked at the vistas on the sides of the trail, or the colorful purple flowers growing on the edges.
Although she enjoyed the scenery, truth be told, hiking bored her a little. Her mother had made her come. What can a twelve year old really do? Your family is going, your mother and brothers are packing the car and everyone is calling your name to get in.
Samantha would have preferred to stay home and study music. That was her gift – songs and melodies. She could hear constant music in her head, not in any demented way, but during church even after the hymns, she would continue them in her head, imagining the speaker singing a solo through a complicated high and low pitch, or hear a group of children singing in the halls, or in nursery. It was better to imagine music because church was rather dull. All that sitting and being instructed.
At least here, on the trail, which seemed to continue indefinitely into the distance, she could make her own choices, and she could sing whatever silly songs she wanted. There wasn’t a teacher or parent guiding her every decision and thought. She felt a freedom that was liberating. The more alone she felt, the freer everything seemed.
Her mother and brothers were so far back, she couldn’t hear them, not even when she stopped. She could only hear stillness and look out at the blanket of green in front and on the sides of her. She paused, took a deep breath, and listened. In the distance, she could hear nothing, and so she closed her eyes and listened more. Maybe if she listened closely enough, she could hear music out here too, in the woods. What music did the forest make, she tried to determine. Although she concentrated for a sign, the only sound was the swaying the tree branches in the wind.
She began walking again, and started humming a tune. She liked to keep her eyes closed while she walked, so she could feel the surroundings. When you close your eyes, your hearing sharpens. Your body magnifies the active senses. She couldn’t keep her eyes closed too long without tripping on rocks or tree roots, so she squinted, and listened. She hummed what she imagined could be the song of the earth, the ground awakening. Her hum was a slow soft hum that increased more and more as the dust awoke. In her mind she imagined a soft, slow swirling cloud of dust rising from the ground — the earth awakening. What sounds would this awakening make?
Squinting as she did, she rarely looked at the trail. She focused more on the song in her head, seeing the notes slowly dance about, and without knowing it, in a small, almost unnoticeable decision, she soon veered down a small deer trail, a side path. She took it as the main trail. She didn’t even realize the path had forked, or that she’d taken a wrong trail. It’s often the case that trails branch out, and it’s easy for someone to take a wrong turn.
Samantha moved forward with the same confidence, matching her pace with the awakening earth, stepping over fallen logs, moving quickly under canopies of green trees and underbrush on each side of her. Her voice had changed from a low hum to a fast-pitched tune, as she imagined the earth coming more and more alive.
At times underbrush covered part of the trail, which she thought was strange, but she didn’t consider that the trail she was following was the wrong one, until an hour later, when she noticed an eerie stillness, and several other paths leading off the trail. Seeing these other paths branching off, she considered that perhaps she had taken the wrong path. Still, she decided to walk on, believing that the trails would eventually meet up, perhaps part of a big loop.
It had been a couple of hours since her mom and dad last saw Samantha. They thought they’d meet her at the end of the trail in the parking lot at the car, but when they arrived at the parking lot, she was nowhere to be found. Her mother checked the park restroom and the nearby picnic areas. Not seeing Samantha, her mother started to panic. She shouted her name several times, louder and louder. They even honked their car horn. After an hour of fruitless looking, she contacted the ranger. The ranger hadn’t seen her. She asked other hikers who were both entering and exiting the trail, but no one had seen Samantha.
Samantha knew something was wrong. The trail was only supposed to be 3 miles, but she had been walking much longer. Could it take 2 hours just to walk three miles? No, not at her pace. She could turn back, but how would she know which trail was which? She felt she was headed in the right direction. The trail she was on might be a detour, a business loop. It would eventually exit at the trailhead parking lot.
As she walked, she thought to herself, what kind of creatures live here, in these woods? Were they just deer and rabbits, or could there be something more? She walked down trails that looked interesting to her. She turned down this trail and that, moving quickly and looking at the underbrush and trees beside her. At times the trees formed a canopy over top and other times the canopy opened up and she could see a vista of the valley below.
The heat of the afternoon drifted into the evening, and Samantha continued deeper into the thickness of trees. She avoided turning up any trail that traversed uphill. She decided to follow the sounds of the birds. Hearing the chirping, she would stop, look up, and focus her attention on woodland creatures. What were they saying? Were they warning her? If only she could understand.
She often spoke to herself, lost in thought. A chipmunk scurried across the trail, stopping briefly to stare at her, and then darted off into the underbrush. An orange butterfly fluttered in figure eights around her, almost following a musical notation. If its path were mapped, she wondered, would it be a song? She tried to sing the fluttery notation of a butterfly, but the tune just wouldn’t form, because her mind wasn’t clear. She was distracted and worried.
It wasn’t until she came across a field of dead, flattened trees from a part of the forest that had been slash-burned that she stopped and looked around her for a few minutes. She realized that she was lost. And all her walking wasn’t getting her anywhere.
After pondering the situation for a few minutes, Samantha slowly continued to wander. She walked past the field of fallen trees, and across a little wooden plank that extended over a creek, and up and around the winding trails. She grew thirsty, and she made her way to a nearby creek bed for some water. The creek was narrow but ran swiftly, pooling up only in places where logs jammed the flow of water. She knelt down and cupped her hands in the water and, before she took a drink, she heard something move in the bushes. She looked up but saw nothing. She felt a bit of panic and her breathing quickened.
Samantha’s face was sweaty and her legs were dirty. She had been lost for more than 5 hours, and by now she was so far off the regular path that she had no idea what direction she should go. She thought perhaps she should sit down on a log and wait right where she was, because her mom had always told her to do that if she got lost in a store. But this wasn’t a store. It was a wilderness, and who knows what kind of animals might come looking for her — a bear, perhaps, or a cougar or wolf? If she stayed on the log, how would anyone ever know where to look? No, she decided to keep moving, because eventually, Samantha told herself, she would find a trail that would lead somewhere — to a small town, or a ranger station, or a cabin, or a road. Someone made this trail for a reason, Samantha said, so I’ll keep on it and see where it takes me.
But as she walked down the trail, it grew thinner and thinner, with more and more underbrush covering the path, until there was no more trail at all. The trail simply disappeared in a gradual way.
Now what? she thought, standing at the end of the trail that was no longer a trail. She remembered something her father once taught her. If you get lost in the woods, follow a river. The river will eventually lead toward a town, because all people need water. She could still hear the creek in the distance. She moved toward it – completely off path now — and began to follow its stream. The creek winded this way and that, like a snake. It passed over ledges and around giant tree trunks. She made her way along the creek’s side.
The sides of the creek were somewhat muddy, and several times she slipped. One time her foot slid entirely in the water. The creek was cold and her foot was now wet. Her shoe sloshed as she walked. She paused to remove her shoe and wrench out the water. Sitting at the end of the trail, looking across the creek, the sun was already setting on the horizon. She decided she better get going.
She followed the creek another half mile before her foot slid off the path again and into a muddy patch. Her entire shoe, once white, was now brown with mud. A few more steps and she slipped again, this time twisting her ankle on an exposed tree trunk. She felt a sharp pain, but it wasn’t broken, only twisted.
She hobbled to the side of the trail and examined her foot. It felt swollen and puffy. Still, she decided she needed to keep moving. She used two sticks to make a splint, something she’d seen her boy scout brothers do at a knot-tying activity at her home. She put a stick on each side of her ankle and then looked for some vines to wrap around the sticks, but she could find nothing. She hobbled along, bouncing on one foot. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes before she grew tired and realized that this wasn’t going to work.
By now the sun had left the sky and dusk settled. It was getting dark, especially below the forest line of trees. In the dim light, she looked for shelter. She ventured away from the creek along every hint of a trail, looking for something — a hollow log, or a large bush with a space in the center. She even thought of sleeping in the branches of a tree, if she could climb up one. After an hour of looking, she spotted a small cabin, a one-room structure that looked leftover from the previous century.
The cabin was old and abandoned. Its wood was rotted and falling in on itself. It was better than remaining out in the open forest, though, so she opened the creaky wooden door and cautiously peered in. Everything was dark, and smelled musty. She didn’t see any light, or any food. The only light came through a side window, from the moon, but even this window was blocked by a hanging curtain, which was ripped. She saw an old single bed in corner, and made their way to the bed and cautiously sat down. When she sat down, a spring creaked and the bed sagged in the middle.
In the moonlight Samantha looked around and began to notice that the cabin wasn’t in fact abandoned. There were traces of someone living there — some firewood cut and stacked in a corner, a table with a pencil and cutting board as well as a white candle. Though the walls were dark and gloomy, yes there was life, a pattern to the room. Between the table and bed, there was a worn path, where there was less dust, and in the corner were some animal skins.
She was exhausted. Lying on the bed, she propped her leg up a bed at the end of the post, elevating it so that it wouldn’t swell. I wish I had some ice, she thought. She wasn’t sure she would make it out of there. She laid her head back and listened to the forest around her. It was stillness again. She was alone, but this time it wasn’t such a comforting feeling. She tried to rest her mind with sleep, but she couldn’t keep her mind clear.
Although Samantha probably should have been more afraid than she was, being lost felt strangely calming. What people find disorienting about being lost is not having the familiar context to define who they are. Take away the context of your family, home, school, friends, neighborhood, and other familiarities and you begin to wonder who you are. This context plays an important role, and losing it is why people who are lost often panic – because they lose the familiarity.
Though at times Samantha felt a tinge of panic, it dissipated and was overtaken by a sense of calm. She was a lost kid to begin with – her mother didn’t understand her. She didn’t understand herself, this propensity toward music, but without any recognizable talent with instruments, only frustrated her. She didn’t have any friends, and played only occasionally with her cousins. Her context was already in dispute, and losing what had been familiar to her opened up a world of new possibilities.
As Samantha lay there on the bed, thoughts of her family faded, as well as school. She focused on the patterns on the wood. The wood was old. Knots had been poked out as holes. It bowed; rusty nails connected one board to another loosely. She thought of her favorite tune and tried to hum it with words of the forest. It was an upbeat, cheery tune, and it did make her feel more relaxed.
Swirling river so round and round. Moving clouds sliding up and down. Have you ever seen, the sun at midday? Glory, glory, open the sun’s rays.
At least out here, alone, she could sing as much as she wanted. The cabin’s walls even provided some helpful acoustics. Samantha knew she wanted to be a singer, or songwriter, or some kind of musician, but her mother never entertained this idea seriously. She wanted her to become a doctor or lawyer, or some serious professional.
Samantha knew she wasn’t normal, if there was such a thing. She felt she was special in some way, like she had a purpose. Only she didn’t know it. Her life was important, but for what end? How would she bring about the events that must surely come? Music was her future, somehow, but it was always discouraged, and so remained in the background, something she could do in her time alone. In her personal prayers at night, Samantha would feel the words, Sing, Samantha, Sing. But when she did, if her mother was around, her mother would say Quiet, Samantha. Focus.