Crunch. Crack. Crunch.
“Wow, couldn’t I just walk quietly?” I thought to myself as each step inadvertently waged war against the forest floor. As I plodded along the trail (which seemed to be disappearing the further I walked), I let my senses wander. My eyes nonchalantly examined the silhouettes of my surroundings, and took in the bursts of green moss growing on the ragged tree trunks. The fog seemed to hover just above the forest floor, disorienting me for a second. Behind the sound of each step I took, my ears took in the varying notes of a blue bird’s personal sonata, the gurgle of the water rushing down the meandering stream, the constant pitter patter of sprinkling raindrops falling onto each leaf, and the occasional sound of a deer fleeing the danger of its imagination.
The whisper of rain echoed throughout the deep forest as the skies opened up and let out a drenching flood of rain. I opened my mouth, tipping my head back as far as it could go, and tasted the sweet, fresh rain. The smell of the earth slowly filled my nostrils and an unexpected smile spread across my chapped lips. It’s funny how a certain scent can do that. It bring back a rush of memories. To me, the forest had always been my refuge. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a small, white flower.
And all at once, my mind ripped me back to the past, knocking the breath from my lungs.
“The jingle of a child’s laughter filled the thick, moist forest air. “Mommy! Mommy! Look what I found!” the child squealed. A warm smile appeared on the young mother’s face as her daughter, newly turned four years old, stumbled with her words and bounced over to her. She noticed a small white something hidden in the clutches of the child’s delicate and chubby fingers. As the child held up the small white something, she realized it was a Queen Anne’s Lace flower. She felt her heart leap at the sight of it, and a new kind of smile came upon her face. A smile that was meant to mask the sadness she had buried so long ago.”
I let the memory dance in my mind for a few more moments before it slinked away, back into the deep canyons of my mind. Back then, I didn’t know that my mom’s smile had been a mask, and my innocence had sheltered me from knowing the truth. The flower had brought back a flood of painful memories for her. Queen Anne’s Lace was my mother’s favorite flower, but it was also my father’s favorite flower; He split from us a long time ago, leaving my mother with a one year old baby girl and bouquet of dying Queen Anne’s Lace.
Shaking my head, perhaps trying to shake the thought of my father, I kept walking. Sunlight danced across my skin, creating a painting of the outlines of each leaf, morphing my shape into the surrounding forest. My feet seemed to operate on autopilot as they made their way to the sound of the waves crashing at First Beach. A rush of salty air filled my lungs, and I happily drank up the following memory.
“I watched my feet sink into the sand as I walked along the stormy shore at First Beach. Looking over at my mom, my Aunt Claire, and my grandparents, I saw the four people who’d ultimately shaped who I was in just about every way. ‘Who needs a father when I have them?’ but even as the thought ran across my mind, I knew it was a lie. I stopped walking and stared towards the forest edge, suddenly wanting to walk in and never come out. It had always been a place where I felt safe, where I felt like myself. For some reason I, just kept walking.
I yearned for my father to come back and realize his daughter needed him. ‘That’s never going to happen, and you know it.’ I’d had this conversation with myself countless times, and I always came to the same conclusion. He was never coming back . ‘Whatever, I’m still going to enjoy my fifteenth birthday’ I allowed what little sunshine that broke through the cloud cover warm my cheeks and smiled as I breathed in the fresh, salty air. A grin came across my lips as the chilly water rushed over the tips of my Converse. Letting out a content sigh, I turned on my heel and made my way back down the shore to my family. This was going to be a wonderful birthday.”
In a whirlwind, my surroundings switched from First Beach to a part of the forest I didn’t recognize. Was I… lost? I searched the inner workings of my mind for even an inkling of knowledge regarding where I was. I had gotten so caught up in the past that I forgot about the present. Then I was suddenly aware that I was completely and utterly lost in the Olympic National Forest. In that moment of realization, I found what I’d been (unconsciously) searching for.