The sapling

I wrote this a little while ago

I sit down hard on the rock beside the river. I can see the streaks of red in the sky. The sun is setting. I have to get home, or I will be stuck out here all night. That would be too cold. So cold I could die. But I still hold onto the cold earth in the hand.
I really don’t know where to go now.

This morning, I went for a walk. It was a brisk morning, but I still went.
I just wanted to escape from the house, even on such a cold day where nothing stirred. There is still some ground frost left over from the winter, the cold, cold winter where we couldn’t even move the car for a month it was so freezing out.  I suppose that helped in making everything so much more hard inside.
So today, on the warmest day so far this year, I decided to go for a walk.

Beside my house, on the outskirts of the city, up the hill slightly, there is a forest. A large forest where you can sit for a few hours without seeing a soul. That’s the reason I always go there when my mind is full. I always take my knife, just in case

I decided to walk to the river that runs through my forest. On the way, I saw a sapling.
And not an old one, either. It was a fresh new bud, bursting out of the ground in spite of the cold. Maybe the seed had decided that life was short, and so on the fifth of March, even though it still felt like mid winter, it had set out its new sources of life. I could tell that the frost was taking its short life already, as there was already browning on its leaves beneath the slender rim of tiny, sparkling crystals and it was sagging heavily, crumpling away.
So I decided one thing.
I would save this tree’s small, fragile life.
And so I pulled off my gloves and began to dig through the frozen soil with my bare fingers. At first, I made no mark on the solid ground, but after a while, the heat of my fingers warmed it up and it began to scrape away.
While I was digging fruitlessly, I looked upwards, towards the tops of the trees. I saw the sky, blue and chilling, the silhouettes of the bare trees only making it more cold. Sometimes I like winter, because the coldness and the starkness of everything reflects my thoughts and feelings. In the summer it feels too much like the earth is rejoicing without me. But in the winter it sympathizes with me.

My fingers felt roots, and I gently worked around them. I would not want to injure this delicate creature. After much teasing, it came free of the earth. I slowly stood up, my legs sore and knees cold.
I began to walk. I didn’t really care whether or not it was in the direction of home. I never wanted to go back there.
A jay laughed mockingly in the trees around me. It reminded me of the jeering laughs of my classmates, as they made fun of me. Made fun of my messy, worn, too small clothes, my tangled hair, my hollow, dark eyes, my unusual alliance with trees. They hurt me and they knew I would never tell anyone.
Because the teachers didn’t care any more. They didn’t care about me.

Often, I considered leaving. Going to someone, getting help.
I ran away once. I knew he wouldn’t notice. I left for the whole summer, living in the woods out here. I went back every week at night when I knew he would be in the pub.
But when school started again, I went back. Because I knew that if they noticed that I didn’t come in any more, they would send someone out to find me.

I wandered for ages, deeper into the woods. Although I had lived there for so long, I didn’t recognize this place. But I kept going, because I had nowhere else to go.

That’s how I got to be here.
I sit down hard on the rock beside the river. I can see the streaks of red in the sky. The sun is setting. I have to get home, or I will be stuck out here all night. That would be too cold. So cold I could die. But I still hold onto the cold earth in the hand.
I really don’t know where to go now.
I realize that I left my gloves behind when I was digging up my sapling. I try to follow my tracks backwards but I lose them and see that I am going in the wrong direction. So I crumple in exhaustion beside a tree. I try to pull some branches near, to insulate my body.
I place my head to the ground.
A robin sings beside me. I think it can sense my thoughts and feelings, because as I lie there lifelessly, It hops nearer and looks closely at me. It jumps onto the earth in my hands.  The robin’s beady eye twitches as it cocks its head and looks all around. In the fading light I can see the vibrancy of its red breast, so bright and cheerful.
It looks so happy.

I cast my eyes up towards the darkening sky. I can see a star beginning to shine out. The trees rustle in a gentle breeze.
I wait.
And then I sleep.

I awake the next morning to a blanket of snow over my cover of sticks.
I don’t know if I am dead or not. I should be. But I still sit up, and begin to make a shelter for myself. It’s a long process, and so I start early. At least I still have my knife.

By the end of the day I have finished, and I slip inside. I have kept the sapling, and now I plant it carefully inside my shelter, in a place I will not tread on it yet I will be able to keep it warm at night.

The next day, because of my hunger, I find a few edible plants and feed off them. But I know this is not enough long term. But before that, I have to make a fire.
I begin to construct a bow drill, with a long strong stick and my shoelace. I take off my other shoelace too, so that I can make a basic bow later.
After a long while of tiring, painful rubbing, I begin to create smoke from my drill. I drop that into my tinder, and with some gentle coaxing, build up a small fire. I keep it down, so that I can have heat but minimum smoke or flame. Then I begin to carve away at my bow.
After a few days of painful hunger, my bow is finished and I have three arrows, fletched and sharp.

It’s just one bird, but it is enough. My first catch.
The skinning and gutting is a nasty business, but when I set the pigeon roasting over my fire, it is worth it. I go down to the river to wash my hands, delirious with hunger.
That was the best meal of my entire life

And now, three years later, probably many miles away, I still live.
Sometimes I wonder if I actually died that day. My life just got so much better after that one time. Since then I have worked hard, but I have not seen another human. I like it that way.
And for the sapling that led me to where I am, it is now a flourishing young tree. I took it with me when I moved two weeks after that fist time I left and planted it here, in this secret, far away place where I don’t think anyone will ever find me.

Some people may wonder how a seventeen year old lives in the forest on her own.
But I’m born for the forest.
I belong here, with the trees.
And I will stay here forever.

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