There is no forgiveness in nature.
- Ugo Betti, Goat Island
There was another break in the rain and although it was almost dusk, Dan and Bill decided to leave the safety of the house and confront nature head on. Dan found some boots for them to wear and they put on jackets and walked out the kitchen door onto the back porch. The cool air had that crisp, clean post-rain smell that Dan loved and he breathed it in deeply. A dark blue was fighting with the dull grey for control of the skies above. Grey drained from the clouds and they revealed themselves in a glorious bright white in the late afternoon sun.
Dan stepped off the porch, went down the cement stairs and stepped onto the green wet grass. They headed due south through the yard and into the Christmas tree farm beyond Chulkie’s yard. There was no fence and they walked through the chest high forest like giants. At it’s opposite edge, the access road had become a stream as water from the hill was collecting and running down the gravel road. They easily forded the temporary stream and Dan led them up the fire road. On either side of the road, tall trees stood, nearly one hundred feet into the sky. This was the reborn forest that had been knocked down over thirty years before by nature’s wrath, which we called Hurricane Agnes. There was no evidence that it had ever been knocked to its knees. It now stood tall and proud. Water glistened off every remaining leaf and branch. Water was running down the road as the climbed it and their boots splashed in the mud, leaving craters in their wake, which quickly filled with the runoff water.
It took perhaps half an hour to reach the top of the road, where it met another road that ran east/west along the ridge of the hill. Most of the town could be seen from this vantage point. To the right the road to the flat quarry, to the left it led to the deep quarry where the bird’s nest used to be. Dan chose the path east toward what he and his cousin called the “soul of the woods,” which was a wooden arch that stretched over the path. It was actually a tree that had grown bent over and had become caught in branches on the other side of the path through the woods. Getting caught caused it to form an almost perfect arch. Barry had always said that if it ever fell, it would signal the death of the forest.
Dan and Bill’s boots crunched on the dead leaves as the walked along the path. The trees now obscured the view and you got the impression of being much deeper in a forest than you actually were. The canopy of the trees made it slightly less wet here than outside the woods. Despite being early November, signs of life were everywhere. Cardinals and Chickadees could be seen flitting from branch to branch. A brilliant Blue Jay chirped menacingly as they passed him. Small creatures could be heard scurrying along the forest floor, unseen but for the wake they left in the leafy ground cover.
"This would be a great place to take mushrooms." Bill offered.
"I always wanted to try them." Dan admitted. "And it does seem like a natural drug should be experienced in nature. Where did you get the idea that god left pot and mushrooms on the planet to speed up our evolution?" He asked.
"Terence McKenna." Bill answered. "He wrote a book called Food of the Gods. McKenna believed that our brains had unused parts that needed hallucinogenics to unlock them. That always made sense to me. Otherwise, why are these drugs growing naturally all over the planet? I can't come up with a better solution than that they're here for us to use. Nothing else makes sense."
They walked along in silence for another fifteen minutes or so until they came to the spot where the forest’s soul had been. Dan pointed out the remaining remnants of the old arch but Bill was unimpressed.
“You had to be here.” Dan said, trying to be persuasive. “It was just one of the childish beliefs you have when you’re a kid.”
“If you say so.” Bill replied.
“Oddly enough, when it did fall down we were about fourteen or fifteen. We had stopped coming up here very much anymore and we both just happened to be at Chulkie’s one afternoon. So we decided to hike up to the quarry one last time to see what it looked like, since it had been probably a little over a year since the last time we’d been there. When we walked by this spot, we both felt something was wrong. Then we saw that the arch was gone and got this sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, I don’t know. We walked on to the quarry and believe it or not there was a house on the edge of it. It was a ranch style house, nothing special, except for the fact that it was smack dab in the middle of a pile of rocks. And there were ‘No Trespassing’ signs all over the place. We got the hell out of there and that was the last time I came here until today.”
A figure became visible some distance down the path and appeared to be coming toward them. As the person grew closer, they could see it was a man jogging alone. Closer still, Dan was surprised to realize that he thought he knew the person. He called to him tentatively. "Bruno?"
He turned his head at the sound of his name, and reached them quickly. As he neared them, Bruno, and by now he was sure of the runner's identity, was startled as he recognized Dan. He stopped in front of him, stooping to put his hands on his knees and catch his breath. "Dan, is that really you?" He asked.
"Yeah, it's me. How are you, man? Been a while." Dan told him.
They embraced, hugging. Bruno Marinaccio was three years younger than Dan but they had been in band and summer theatre together and were very good friends. He was in Trixie's class and a friend of hers, as well. When Dan was coming home weekends while he was dating Trixie, Bruno was one of the people he hung out with. He had been one of his mother's pallbearers. Dan had not seen him since he'd left for California, though they'd talked on the phone a few times over the years.
"I'm good." Bruno began. "What brings you here? I haven't seen you since your mom's funeral."
"Well, my grandmother passed away. Her funeral is on Saturday. Hey, we're having a wake Saturday night at her house. You've got to be there. Can you make it, do you think?" Dan asked him.
"Saturday night? Yeah, I'll be there. Is that the stone house on Fourth?" Bruno replied.
"Yeah, that's the one. About eight o'clock. It's my last night here. I go back to San Francisco the next day."
"Too bad, I've missed you, man. I had a dream the other night that you were wildly successful and you escaped some danger. I can't remember what it was, but it was weird. Of course, what dream isn't? So who or what led you here?" Bruno asked.
"I used to come up here all the time when I was a kid. My grandmother's house isn't too far from here. I just wanted to see it again. It sure has changed, though." Dan told him.
Unexpectedly, Bill spoke. "Listen to what he's saying."
"Did you hear that?" Bruno said, eyes widening.
"What?" Dan replied.
"I heard a voice." Bruno said.
"Did you see anyone?" Dan asked.
"No, just heard a voice." He clarified. "I must be hearing things, but it sounded so clear. Well, that was weird."
Dan exchanged a look with Bill, who just shrugged his shoulders. "What were you saying?" Dan asked Bruno.
"Oh. Yeah. It's no big deal. I'll tell you Saturday. I've actually got to get home. It was really great seeing you."
"Yeah, you too." Dan agreed, and they shook hands. Bruno ran off and they continued their walk. Dan turned to Bill. "He heard you!"
"It sure seemed that way." Bill agreed. "That was really strange. But he obviously couldn't see me."
"So what were you saying, anyway. Something about listening to what Bruno was saying." Dan grilled him.
"Don't worry about it. He didn't say what I thought he would. Maybe hearing me freaked him out. He dreamed you'd be a great success. Sounds like good fortune to me. Maybe your luck is changing."
"I don't put any stock in that stuff. I don't think dreams predict anything. We make our own luck. What is it the Flaming Carrot used to say, 'Fortune Favors the Bold.' I always liked that expression."
They kept walking and Dan led Bill on to the path that led to the old quarry. It was somewhat obscured but he’d been here so many times he could navigate it easily. When they were several hundred yards from where the quarry should have been, it became a green, manicured lawn. It was someone’s backyard. As far as the eye could see in either direction, there were lawns and houses. What was once a quarry was now a housing development. People had encroached on the forest since that time and now it was all but complete. He knew it was futile to be upset about it, but Dan always mourned the loss of the world in its natural state.
Dan turned back to Bill and told him. “Well it was here a minute ago.”
Bill laughed. “Another childhood memory paved over?”
“Sort of.” Dan answered. “It was probably paved with the stone from the quarry.”
They both laughed at that. “I don’t know why I thought it would still be here?” Bill mused. “I know I should just be happy that this much of the woods is still here.” He shrugged his shoulders. "But to me nature seems like it's the only true chapel. Anything man builds is nothing compared to what nature can do. The best of nature is majestic, even mankind's best is vulgar by comparison. There's a poem by William Blake. I can only remember part of it:"
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
As if in answer to Dan's rantings, the sky blazed with pinks and soft blues in a colorful sunset. "We need to get down before it gets too dark." Dan suggested, pointing up at the fireworks. "Nice sunset." He remarked.
"Yeah." Was all Bill could manage.
It was almost dark by the time they turned down onto the fire road. Fireflies could be seen twinkling on and off all around the forest. Like stars within their reach, while the creatures of the forest played nature's symphony to accompany the dance of lights. It was an ethereal sight.
"You see the fireflies?" Dan asked.
"Uh huh." Bill agreed.
"They remind me how cruel humans can be. When we were kids we'd snatch them into our fist, throw them forcibly to the ground and step on them, dragging our shoe a couple of feet. This would leave a phosphorus trail that glowed for a few seconds. These beautiful bugs gave their lives for our amusement. Other times we'd catch as many as we could and put them in a jar to make a kind lamp. Our parents would provide the jar and help us poke air holes in the metal lids. The fireflies would never last the night since they had no food. By morning they'd all be dead. I can't believe how casually cruel we were. We never even gave it a second thought. And it wasn't just being children; our parents helped either actively helped or turned a blind eye. Is there another animal that kills for fun like that? I know cats play with their food, but it's still food. This was just plain senseless cruelty. And it was little kids."
"We're just a virus with shoes." Bill said, quoting himself.
"Exactly!" Dan agreed. "Christianity teaches that man is separate from the 'beasts' meaning nature, which is just plain wrong. Any view that can't see that we're just as much animals as every other living thing is lying to us. We are nature."