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March 17, 2018

14. Bloom and Buzz

Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.
—John Muir

* * *

I only intended to take a one-night hike—to clear my head on the trail and in the company of trees and silence. I wasn’t more than 30 miles from my home so I didn’t overpack: just a sleeping bag, mini tent, water, and snacks. The rest would be provided by the beauty of nature. I often take little day-hikes to experience a fullness that can be found only among trees. But it was this night that was different.

All was going very plainly in the best way until I was awoken in the night by rustling leaves just outside of my tent. It’s not entirely uncommon to have other hikers stumble on your campsite so I did not worry too much. To perhaps lend a hand I stepped outside to greet my fellow outdoor enthusiast. As I unzipped the tent the rustling stopped. Raccoons perhaps. Better to scare them away.

As I stepped out there was utter silence. The beauty of an empty night. My heart paced as I saw a million stars in the sky. The moon was clear and telling, a crisp and perfect circle.


And there at my feet, I remember clearly, were glowing mushrooms. I had not seen them when I set up my tent or prepared my campsite. I had never seen this kind of iridescence in fungi before. And as my eyes adjusted to its proximity, I realized there were hundreds of these mushrooms, of all shapes and sizes. How had I not notice these earlier? Some where the size of a basketball.

The mushrooms formed a clear line. Some clear demarcation of a predetermined path.

I was tired. I do remember that. Of course it was the middle of the night. But I decided to follow for a while. I had nothing to fear at the time. What would be out there but a poisonous spider? Some mosquitoes? I had no idea.

It was somewhere along this new and strange path, somewhere in pure darkness that I noticed the temperature rise dramatically. I began to sweat and panic. And as soon as it was almost unbearable, it subsided. The earth cooled. My heart fluttered and paced.

Again, a terror struck as I realized time began to pass in and out of days and in and out of weeks and that several years had passed. I felt the sun rise and set and the moon follow with its rising and setting over and over into a blur of eons. My heart felt weak.

At the same time I felt a great blooming and buzzing confusion. My mind was weary.

Without any hesitation my body’s exhaustion caught up. I could not help myself. I stumbled in my old age to my knees and then fell forward, into the soft leaves. Here I slept until sunrise.

When I awoke my hair was long and in my face. My skin was leathery and wrinkled across my hands with aged splotches. My bones ached. I looked at my hands and my youth had returned. Had a glimpsed my older self?

Then, I saw the luminescent fungi. In the light of the morning sun they no longer glowed but they were here. What I had seen had some foundation in reality.

The fungi led me down an aisle of trees, a little lane. And here they led to an enclosure, a sort of arboreal cathedral.

Before I had fully entered the circle, I heard voices. In unison, like chants. Without too much noise in the leaves I ducked low and thread myself through trees and limbs to be unseen. I had no reason to hide but the air felt weighted and I did not truly want to make myself known.

It was not later than mid morning but the canopy above had shunned the light. I could cover myself in shadows as I moved. And there, as I got closer to the sounds, I could see the orange of fire, a pale and strange orange—not the beauty of the sun’s yellow light.

In the center of the open I caught a glimpse. Here in the bowels of the earth, I saw four people, suspended in air. All were floating some ten feet in the air, completely above the heads of any unfortunate passerby. My heart pounded. Again I felt a blooming and buzzing within my head, between my ears, all inside my chest and inside my lungs.

Upon closer inspection of the ritual I noted three of them were clearly antagonizing the fourth, a victim, perhaps some sacrifice, present in their midst presumably out of their will. Was this some sacrificial séance? This moment, what filled my vision, was incongruous with reality. This experience was a nightmare. Oh, the secrets the trees keep.

The four figures continued to spin and hang in the air. As quick as a dark flash I felt someone cover my mouth and pull me to the ground. I thought my heart was ready to explode with what I was seeing and then I was startled out of my skin and truly my heart stopped. I gasped—but in the covered hand that silenced me.

“Quiet! Why are you here?” Her eyes bore into mine, a maternal look of care. “How did you get here? You should not be here!” Her voice was powerful despite being a whisper.

Her hand finally loosened its iron grip. I calmed a little. “Who are you?” I took her for a witch but her calmness proved me wrong. “Please, stay quiet and take the path back the way you came. Did you see glowing—is that what led you here?”

I could only nod in my shock.

“Go now,” she said. And as I looked over her shoulder I could see others like her, hidden in the trees and hidden from the flying figures. “Enlightenment means taking full responsibility for your life,” she pressed. I nodded again.

“Yes…”

I crouched beneath the limbs and branches and slowly moved back, glancing occasionally over my shoulder. After I had gotten completely out of the thicket and found my path I could hear the chanting had turned to sounds of struggle. My heart again, fatigued, jumped, and I quickened my pace. The mushrooms were here and I followed their path in reverse. The sounds quieted and I put space between myself and that world.

I had not realized the mushrooms diverged at a fork. Down the path they strayed left, where I had gone. And there was another, on the right, that went into a deeper and almost impassible trail. I continued. I wanted to pack my tent and leave as quickly as possible.

Finally I saw my tent. It was tattered and aged beyond years. Somehow time had passed quicker and left my tent in shambles, as if a decade had gone by while I was away from it. There was a slight rustle behind me, distant, in the leaves. I left it all. I would return later to clean my mess—I swore it—but for now, I needed to leave. I began to run.

This is the most thorough telling of my story I can recollect. I never did return to collect my tent and supplies.

Not a day goes by that I do not wonder what was down that other, forked trail. I took the misguided one—but somehow I turned back, turned around, and that has made all the difference.

This piece owes some gratitude to books like The Hike by Drew Magary, The Fisherman by John Langan, and a painting: Vuelo de Brujas (Witches’s Flight) by Francisco Goya. There are direct quotes from William Blake, Robert Frost, William James, and Maurice Sendak. Finally, I took a hint from Christopher Knight, the North Pond Hermit, who simply walked away from civilization and lived in the woods of Maine for 27 years in total isolation.

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