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Part Two. Becoming Aware; Edie's view.
The Essence of Life
Edna heard the reassuring, secure click as she pushed the trunk of her car shut firmly. She turned away, swinging her backpack to bring the strap up over her shoulder. She adjusted it to fit properly, evenly distributing the weight over both shoulders. She glanced quickly through the glass of the side doors to make sure the car was locked, then turned to look at the vines and brambles that were straining, dappled by sunlight, to close off the trail leading into the woods. She took a deep breath and sighed. In the release of that one breath, she could feel a good measure of the day's stresses gush out of her into the warm, humid air.
It had been a rough day. She worked at an emergency clinic in town, and it was a fairly busy place, but today had more issues than usual coming through the door. Some of the work was exhaustive, but rewarding; a litter of five pups suffered with a serious case of Parvovirus, which is usually a very difficult illness to treat. She was very proud that her clinic had a reputation for saving a high percentage of Parvo cases. These pups were a mix of some large breed and looked almost calico. They were a fuzzy batch of grey, brown, and black splats of patchy fur, with a dappling of small white spots scattered throughout, like sprinkles on a cake. She guessed probably Australian Shepherd mix. Or Blue Heeler. But the fuzziness gave her pause. Regardless of what they were, due to their diligent treatments and heartfelt caring, the entire litter was going to pull through.
On a more unpleasant note, another cat had been caught up in a fan belt, and it couldn't be saved. She shuddered as an image of it's poor broken face came into her mind; the crushed skull and the one glazed eye, bulged out and dry, while the other eye still blinked wet tears and tried to focus. She shook the image away. He'd been a beautiful, thick-bodied, grey and black tabby tomcat, and he reminded her of Otis, her own big tabby at home. It was such a shame. But she didn't fault the owners. She let her cats roam loose, too. She felt responsible for her pets, but she didn’t see them as children, or property; she thought of them as independent beings, responsible for their own lives…to a point. Animals were smart, and if raised independently, they learned. They knew how to survive on their own; people forgot this. Unfortunately, the more human a world they lived in, the less they could enjoy being independent, and they did come to rely, very heavily, on the humans that controlled their environment. But since she now lived in a more rural area, her animals could roam the grounds in relative safety. They had enough room that they rarely left her property. Even so, she knew that letting your pets have free run increased the odds that they would eventually get injured, or killed.
But what was life if you couldn’t explore it? She re-established the placement of her shoulder straps and thinned her lips into a grim line. No, she couldn't fault the owners. Even though the cat had died a horrible death, he had died living freely. She felt sorry for animals that were trapped in the house when they didn't want to be. A lot of animals were perfectly happy to lie around on a pillow all day, and for them, such a life was fine. Others paced the house restlessly, or gazed longingly out of the windows, pining for something more. She felt great compassion for these animals.
She thought she could relate.
She felt somewhat trapped herself. Oh, she was happy. Her husband was a good loving man who would do anything for her - she was extremely lucky to have such a man, given how many there were these days that had no use for a home and family. He worked responsibly at his job, helped take care of his home, and even more important, took part in the raising of their two boys. But he and the two boys loved the city - loved lights, electronics, video games, computers, and cars. They had very little use for the natural world, and didn't share her love for it. She could never entice them to come out on a hike like she was doing today. And so, if she really wanted to commune with nature, she had to do it alone.
Doing things alone really wasn't that much fun. You couldn't exclaim at and share the beauty of a tiny flower or place a lady bug on the sensitive skin of someone’s inner arm so they could feel the gentle tickling of it’s feet when no one was there to let you do it. And you really couldn’t vent, and share your feelings about your day, when you had to walk alone. She felt a familiar aching behind her sternum in her chest; it felt like a mixture of hunger and heart burn. She drew in a deep breath, let it out, and started walking towards the path.
Upon entering the forest, the whole world changed. The sun was blocked by the canopy of vegetation and the light filtered by the leaves was tinted green. The temperature dropped immediately my several degrees, and the air became cool and damp. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply and felt the tension and stress of the day start to ease out of her body. The forest hummed with the voices of bugs and birds and frogs; she could feel the essence life around her, thick like an unseen fog; a great envelope of green, encasing her in a warm, sweaty embrace of nature, of life. The essence and aura of living things, living earth, could be felt coming from the loose, dampened soil itself. She imagined it infusing her with fresh life energy every time she placed her foot on the path and heard the soft scrunch it made beneath her feet.
It was hard to find this sense of peace in the city, as everything was mechanical and encased in cement. The essence and aura of the earth, the things that gave her soul strength and energy, were effectively blocked out by tar and pavement. Here, the world was real for her. Here, she could touch the essence of all life, something more and more people weren't even aware of at all. Some of them had never even felt it; they never left the security of electricity and paved walkways. But depression and anxiety manifested more and more in the human condition. She felt strongly that it was because of the lack of exposure to earth essence.
She had tried to introduce her boys and her husband to this, several times; but it didn't have the effect she'd hoped. They had been scratched by brambles, bitten by bugs, were prone to infections and rashes and poison ivy. All of this, on top of just the nasty feeling of being all sweaty and dirty, were the things they mainly focused on. They had enjoyed swimming in the creek, but for the most part, communing with nature was more of a hassle - it was easier just to go to the local swimming pool, not to mention that the pool was at least treated. When Edna had emerged from the creek with a leech attached to her leg, that ended the outing - even though she pulled it off easily, the boys would have nothing more to do with the water.
Edna stopped near a huge tree and laid her hands on its dry, crisp bark, closing her eyes. She imagined she could feel the life there, the sap traveling through the tree itself, the bugs crawling and burrowing through it's bark, the birds picking the bugs away from the bark, and the squirrels building nests near the trunk in it's upper branches. She imagined the leaves fluttering in the breeze in the uppermost branches, and above that, in the light of the sky above all, she could imagine butterflies flittering about, amongst the leaves of the canopy. There was a whole cycle of life happening right here, within this one lone tree. She leaned against it, both palms flat along it's bark, and enjoyed imagining what it was like beneath the earth as well, within the depths of it's roots.
Nothing could fill her with such peace and tranquility as a simple walk in the woods. How could people live their whole lives in the city without this? Yes, bugs bit you, she thought, as she picked an ant off of her cheek and set it back on it’s industrious path up the tree. Rashes, cuts, sweat and dirt; you got used to these things over time. In fact, sweat and dirt were the healthy result of exercise, and it washed off. These things were such a small annoyances, to avoid it so completely. This sense of well being was worth a little dirt under the fingernails. But she would love it so much more, if she could just share it. If she could just get them to see, just once, how it felt to feel the way she did.
She smiled as she realized the ants weren’t feeling her sense of oneness; they were becoming irritated, as her tree hugging was blocking their trail. She released her tree and shook herself free of stray ants, then walked on until she reached the less used paths deeper in the woods. Finally she veered off onto a deer trail that she knew would eventually lead down to a creek. She wasn't worried about getting lost - she was very much at home here; she came here as frequently as she could. Today she had come here straight after work. She hadn't been in several months and was feeling a growing anxiety and discordance. She was becoming irritable and short tempered. She desperately felt the need to recharge herself. A good long walk here for just one afternoon could regenerate her ability to remain relaxed and calm for several months; if she had to go that long. She preferred to come more frequently if she could.
How she wished her boys would see the forest with the same eyes she did.
The creek was low; its rocky bed of what looked to be broken slabs of slate was exposed along both sides. Edna walked along it, enjoying the river pebbles as the low water trickled over them, making them shine and display their varying patterns of color. She knelt down and touched the rocks, picking them up and pondering them before dropping them back and moving on. Eventually she crossed the creek - it was an easy hop - and grabbing some exposed roots, she climbed up the opposite bank to arrive exactly where she wanted, one of her favorite spots; a quiet little clearing where the sun broke through the branches and dappled the earth in enough light for some patches of grass to grow. She liked to commune with nature. Water always drew animals, and she loved being able to see a few out in the wilds. She settled down next to one of her favorite trees amidst some of the longer grass and became utterly still, and quiet.
She watched some sparrows and was amused to see them quarrel over a small puddle of dirty water in which they all wished to bathe, right next to the clean creek. She was very pleased to see a large tortoise as it ponderously and purposefully made it's way towards the water. After what seemed like hours (her sons, she thought dubiously, would have never been able to sit so perfectly still for so long a time) she snapped alert as she heard the shuffling of leaves and the snapping of branches. She knew something larger was approaching steadily in her direction from somewhere behind her tree.
She arose stiffly and apprehensively - although it was quiet here, it wasn't unknown for people to hunt and fish here as well. She didn't want to be mistaken for an animal. She stretched out her kinks as she carefully peered around the tree to see who was coming.
It wasn't a person. It was buck. It was a big buck, fully mature; it was probably a good 8-10 years old, with a thick glossy pelt, well fed and well muscled. She stepped out quietly to have a better look, and in the same instant, it stopped and looked right at her. It made her catch her breath.
What an amazing animal! How could a buck of this size still be in this area? Most of the deer were very skinny and scrawny - the hunters took down most of the larger animals, and of course, they always wanted the best trophies. This one had an enormous rack. "Oh, my." She whispered to herself, and to it. Then she spoke a little louder. "You should leave here. You'd make quite a trophy. Don't you know that?"
The deer flipped both ears forward and flicked its tail; then huffed at her. Then it lowered its head and took a tentative step forward. Slowly, she dropped her bag to the ground and, stooping to make herself less intimidating, she held her hand out to it, whispering quiet, soothing words.
"Oh, you're such a beauty! It's okay; I won't hurt you. It's okay."
To her amazement, the buck seemed encouraged by this and actually came closer towards her. My God! Is it somebody's pet? Why in the world would they release it here? There were safer places… oh, but he's so amazingly beautiful; look at his eyes!
Slowly, she squatted closer to the ground, then shuffled a little closer to the buck. What a beautiful, soft, velvety muzzle. Look at him! He's actually going to let me pet him! She thought. I am so blessed that animals, even wild animals, trust me so quickly. She smiled a dazzling smile, inundated by a thrilling sense of well being as the buck huffed its breath again, and snorted droplets of warm wetness onto her hand. She inched forward just a tad more, and her fingertips just brushed along the side of its muzzle. Just like velvet, she thought.