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Crawdads and Thunderstorms

I suppose the crawdads came first, then the thunderstorm. I set my gaze on the life below the lake, among the mud, reaching deep until my shirt was dunked and I shivered with the cold. The boys were the ones least afraid of the crawdads. As for me, I didn’t like getting pinched by those claws. Still, I caught them, though I didn’t want a taste. The process of capture fascinated me, but to bite into one taken from the water and roasted over a fire? That was a bit much. Better to watch others enjoy the pleasure.

That night I stayed up late by the dying campfire then moved to the lakeside, taking my flashlight with me. I beamed it into the water and was surprised to find the crawdads so near shore. There were no reflections of sky and clouds upon the surface, so I saw through it like glass. I perched on the scraggly root of a cedar tree and watched the nightlife of the lake. Perhaps I imagined myself below the surface of the water, living in their world—perhaps that was why I didn’t want to taste the creatures. It would not be pleasant to be taken out of my world.

I awoke later that night to thunder rolling off the mountains. It was so sudden, pulling me from deep sleep and making me shiver in awe. Was it overhead? Or was it gathering over the mountains to throw itself down into the lake valley and engulf us? Would it pull me out of my world and into the next? Perhaps the lightning would turn us to tasty morsels, as we had the crawdads of the lake. I shut my eyes tight, and the thunder echoed in my soul.

Blueberries and Trout

I tasted the mountain blueberries laced with dew. Perhaps the thin air of the mountains gives them their unique taste—not delicately juicy like those in the swampy lowlands, but mysteriously sweet, the taste lingering in my mouth long after I swallowed. I cannot forget that taste even if I try. Perhaps it was the atmosphere in which they thrived that made them different. The nearby lake was shrouded in mist, and this shroud moved like a living thing around us. How vast was the lake? What lay within? We could only guess, it was veiled to us.

After catching one wisp of a trout and letting it go again, we hiked back down to the lower lake, abandoning the world of white. At this lower lake I settled myself on the shore and cast out, leaving my pole propped next to me as I contemplated the wilderness and wrote in my journal. There was a tug; I don’t know how long I had waited for it. Exhilaration ran through me and I gripped the pole. The end of it bent so far down I was afraid it would break, what had I caught? The Loch Ness Monster? Eventually I reeled it in—only a trout, though a four pounder at that.

We strung the cord through its gills and I marveled at it there in the shallows. No one is able to make a work of art more beautiful than a trout. Each silvery scale is as light and fine as last year’s autumn leaves, with a tail of stained glass. It spirits through the water more gracefully than I can walk on land, no thud of boots on a dirt trail, just the endless sweeping of the water pushed aside. Such a strange creature; so fine, and yet so strong. What was this thing? And had I caught it? Or had it captured me?

I watched it breathe in and out. Its gills were a wonder, and I wished I had been given such so I could slip into the lake and stay there forever. But then again, someone might dare to catch me, and then what would I do? No, I will remain a hiker and taste the mountain blueberries that always leave a hint of eerie sweetness in the mouth afterward and never allow me to forget.

Leprechaun Stacks and the Glacier

We called them leprechaun stacks—little heaps of stone like the memorials set up by the Israelites after crossing the Jordan. We had crossed the Jordan, we had done the impossible. I stood at the top of the world, the glacier below me. The iron in the stones made them a rusty red; I placed a couple in my pockets to remember the place by. Our Jordan had been a ladder made of thick ropes and boards where an avalanche had taken out the trail, leaving behind a steep cascade of stones in a downward climb of about seventy-five feet. But we made it, we all made it.

The glacier curved around a gap in the mountains beyond and was lost to sight. The blue sky stretched overhead, and all that surrounded us was our own. We young folk dashed around the boulders like mountain goats. We must see every view, in every direction, and we must chatter constantly, giddy and exhausted from the hike and yet full of energy. But even in my excitement I noticed the small stack of stones, perched one atop the other; someone had been here before. I looked out over the glacier, glad for the unknown hiker to have seen what I had. For a moment, that person had passed through the same world as I.

The Faery Trail and Black Hills

My home was in the lowlands, which seems strange since I love the mountains dearly. We lived in a broad valley, with the Black Hills in the distant west. It was my world—as safe to me as a lake is to a crawdad or trout. I thought I had explored this world of mine, but I found out one spring there was still more to discover. That was the spring we found the faery trail.

It was a trail of moss and grass that went in many directions. I followed it through fields littered with rocks, scotch broom, and tall grass. It wove its way through a faery wood, and near its path I found a single dogwood tree in full bloom. The trail did not have a ceiling of sky as it passed through the trees; it was more of a tunnel of green. All those trails eventually led down to the Black River, muted in evening to deep blue, grey, and brown, with trees reflected in its slow-running surface. What lay around the next bend out of sight, I could only guess. I have yet to find myself wandering that river.

In summer, we followed one of the wider grassy trails with the vast, blue sky far above. Perhaps if I was a bird I could burst into flight and climb the sky as I had the mountains. Or perhaps if I was a fish I could lose myself in the river. My eyes drifted to the trail ahead. The hills were in the distance, hazy with evening sunlight, and I wished I could keep going until I entered them and lost myself in their blue-green depths. In truth, I wished to find a faery realm, perhaps someday I will.

Blackberries and the New Faery Trail

When I left my home behind and went off to college I found a new faery trail. The trail I chose was a sidewalk running behind the brick buildings of Old Main and Miller Hall and along the length of the arboretum. I chronicled the patterns and colors of fall with my camera on weekends, trying to adjust to my new realm. I found summer all along this trail of mine and filled first my hands and then my mouth will blackberries, staining my lips and fingertips purple.

Autumn gave way to winter, and in that eerie silence of ice I walked with only the little wrens for company and a lone hummingbird. I’d tell myself that I just had to last the winter and then spring would come again, and then summer—and I could return home to my world. I found in time though that worlds change once you pass through them, leaving only dim echoes of memories. Those memories leave an odd taste in my mouth, and strangely enough it reminds me of the mountain blueberries. I turn my eyes to the trail ahead; there is a new world before me.