by beth fantozzi, 04/10/2020, suttons bay, Mi

Adult Category

I’m dressed in jeans and sturdy hiking shoes. Two coats are layered up over me, protecting me from a bitter wind and a scarf is wrapped up over my hat, the extra warmth keeping my ears from hurting. The bright Spring sun is piercing through winter’s spell and a fierce wind insists on ushering in something new. My feet are leading me to find solace. Each step forward, a repeat of so many other steps I’ve taken. There is comfort in the familiar. But everything is different.

We are hiking today because it is on our short list of approved activities during this season of social distancing. Fear is running rampant with news of the Pandemic. Shelves are bare in the grocery stores, the financial world is crumbling, people are losing their jobs and everyone is fearing for their lives.

But out here, things are different. The trail is gorgeous. The sun assaults bare winter trees, casting sharp shadows onto the snow. Our feet trek over both slushy snow and slick icy patches that threaten to smack us to the ground. Our trail turns up a steep incline to an overlook, and here, the snow has vanished. Here, gnarled tree roots give us a sure foothold, presenting steps as we climb the steep face.

Suddenly, I am 10 years old.

I’m sitting under Hemlock trees, encountering vast worlds. Legs crossed underneath me, I am lost in the smell of earth. The forest is damp and full of life, I am one with nature. Loopy roots jut out of the ground, creating caves as I move little souls into their shelter, serving them food in tiny saucers made of acorns. Smooth sand spreads out into the open areas, an invitation to gather for imaginary souls of the forest, and it is there that I host fanciful parties. Tiny Hemlock pinecones and feathery branches serve as both furniture and walls in my private world. I am lost.

With one more step, I am here again and I’m caught between the permanence of my youth and the never-ending change of today. Then, Hemlock trees were constant. Since the beginning of time, they’d had a hand in creating the world I was to inhabit. Silently and gently, they grew strong and tall offering shade and shelter and giving my heart a place to call home. Another step and I realize that even they are losing dependability, their numbers dwindling as an invasive species threatens their survival.

I’m walking between the past, where everything lasted forever and today where everything seems transient. Is this my fate? Is this our fate? I’m weary about how much change I can actually navigate. Another step and we reach our goal – the stable platform perched on top of the dune. Clutching the railing, I am blinded by the blue water of Lake Michigan. Churning white waves dance in the sun, islands in the distance roll up, breaking the horizon and I am again surrounded in permanence.