The forest provides food, shelter and sometimes a place to hide.
Fiction by Troy “Cianaodh Óg” Young
I am in the thick forest growth among the briar vines near the old creek trail trying to find my way to….somewhere. Where I am going and where I have been are not clear to me as the effects of the mead still linger but I know that I must press on. The earthy aroma of moist soil, tree bark and the distant smokiness of a campfire fill my nostrils. Behind me I hear the sounds of drumming and people singing, laughing and celebrating but I have already been there, among my people, joining in the festivities. But now, I need to press on through the forest, to another place. The leaves rustle suddenly as a small creature is startled by my presence then a squirrel scurries up a nearby tree, stops and turns to observe me, making sure I intend it no harm. I continue my journey as twigs snap beneath my boots and my staff helps me steady myself over the uneven terrain.
What was that thing? I wonder to myself as I move as quickly as my legs, and the terrain, will allow. How did it get here, so far within the outskirts of the ‘safe zone’ if it was what I suspected it to be? My heart was racing and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears as the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and on my arms. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe I am making a big deal out of nothing. It could have been a frog I heard and an owl passing over I saw. But, it’s awfully late in the season for frog noises and that didn’t look like an owl’s shape. I should probably talk to our seer about it or maybe pick Teutates brain over it. He is the most technically savvy person still living I know within the tribe and he might have an idea or two about what it could have been. Maybe one of the two of them will set my mind at ease. I can hope anyway. I’m not so sure though. My “gut feeling” as they say is that I saw exactly what I fear I saw and I, scratch that, the entire tribe could be in grave danger because of it. Should I even be running this direction? Perhaps the sensible thing to do is turn around and go back where I came from. “Should I stop and observe the skies for something out of sorts?
Thorns In The Forest:
No, I’ll press on. I’m probably just overthinking things. I wasn’t really all that hungry anyway so why did I bother going there? Watch out for those locust tree thorns! They can go right through the thickest soles if you don’t watch where you put your foot. They make great nails for building things though. “Yes, stop trying to run and walk sensibly before you hurt yourself.” I scold myself as I hear my mother’s voice echo in the recesses of my memories.
I come upon a small clearing in the thick forest. A gathering place with large stones arranged in a circle around a single tree. Here, deep within the perimeter, is supposed to be the safest place of all. A place where we can have such structures in the open without fear of bringing undue attention from outsiders. I can tell this tree has been touched by many hands over the years as it’s bark is worn smooth around the trunk at about waist to shoulder level for an average sized person. Hanging from it’s branches are offerings, a beaded necklace here, a feather fan there, some trinkets, ribbons, stones wrapped in cloth hanging by strings. At the base of the tree are many small statuettes, a drinking horn, some pottery. I instinctively touch the tree and a memory rushes into my consciousness.
An old medicine woman is at the tree with one hand touching the trunk as another passes a lit torch to an old man. She is chanting as she passes it to him and he in turn passes it to a younger man, the younger man passes if to a boy and says something about keeping the traditions, the old ways alive. That boy was me!
What is the message of this vision? Am I being reminded that I am responsible for the safety of the tribe as every other member who has passed through these rites of passage are? Will I bring shame and worse upon myself and my family by running home when I should have taken other measures? Will I be the one to extinguish the torch? I stop for a moment. I look and I listen but I hear nothing but the usual sounds of an early Reed Month forest. No strange buzzing and no shadows in the clear, starry sky. “You’re running from your imagination you fool!” a voice inside my head says. Well, my imagination can be one scary son of a bitch I respond. It’s true, I have imagined some pretty messed up things in my life and, thankfully, most of them have never come to pass. But there’s always a first time for everything they say.
I continue my journey for I know I am getting closer. In the distance I smell the fire and the savory scent of something cooking. Behind me I can still hear the drums. The trees again are closer together and vines grow thick along the ground and up their trunks, into their branches. Finally another break in the trees and I can see a small, simple shelter made of branches, screens of bamboo and reeds, a roof of thatch. A woman is huddled over the fire, tending a pot hanging from a tripod. In it boils a stew of potatoes, corn, carrots, onions, meat. To the side another kettle is steaming with fresh brewed tea. She looks up as I make my way into the clearing carrying my sack across my shoulder. She smiles and says. “You are home.”
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