Friday, November 30, 2007

Held by the Forest

I was eleven years old, maybe. I was running pell-mell down a steep path, on the far side of the Hill. Bounding, flying, down the slope.

Abruptly I found myself in empty space. A dirt road cut deeply, unseen, across the path. A moment later I struck the ground with both feet, cartwheeled, and slammed against the leafy floor.

It was suddenly very quiet. The breath was not quite knocked out of me: I could take little sips of air. I lay on my back, quite still. I felt no pain. Both my ankles were quietly reporting zero functionality.

I felt I was floating, as I lay there. Unmoored. Calmly I thought it through. I was about a mile from home. I could crawl that far, if need be. Was anyone home? I couldn't remember. It didn't matter. Someone would be, eventually. The worst-case scenario wasn't so bad. If my back was okay, anyway.

In the meantime, the forest held me. High up, a broken twig rocked against the sky. Every so often a leaf came loose and batted its way down to the ground, with a soft sound like the rustle of a dress.

After a few hours, as it seemed -- I expect it was a couple of minutes -- I could take full breaths. I began cautiously moving my head, my arms, my legs. Taking inventory. Was my back really all right? Apparently so.

My ankles were numb. But I could move my feet. Did that mean they weren't broken? I wasn't sure. But a mile was a long way to crawl.

So I stood up. I had very little sensation in my feet, and it was hard to balance on them: I was standing on numb, useless stubs. But I could walk, with care, with a motion more like wading than walking. Climbing back the way I'd come was out of the question. This road ran south: it had to meet with the back loop eventually. I moved slowly along it.

Sure enough. I found myself in the back loop. A fairly level, fairly straight shot to home. Pins and needles in my ankles now. My feet could tell me a little, now, about the surfaces they encountered.

By the time I had limped home, full sensation was back. Oddly, I don't remember that it ever hurt, then or later.

No one was home. I never told anyone about it. It had been stupid, galloping down an unknown path. I didn't care for anyone to know how foolish I'd been. And my freedom to wander was precious to me. Best not to give anyone the idea that I might come to grief out there.

And anyway, I had been held, held by the forest.

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