The Quandary of The Forest

The Quandary of The Forest
A short story by: Jeremy Rumble
Written June 11, 2016

There once a young boy who lived near the edge of a lush forest. Every afternoon, the boy would explore and climb trees with his friends until evening. He loved his adventures very much, but alas his time there drew steadily to a close, though he did not yet know it. One day his family sat down with him to explain that they would be moving to the city. “Great!” thought the boy, “More adventures!” Excitedly he packed, and off they went.

The city turned out to be much less grand than the stories he had heard from travellers. Sure, there were spectacular buildings and masses of people, but something was missing. The people were brisk and the streets smelled unpleasant. Most of all, he missed his forest adventures. The boy grew as time passed, and he grew accustomed to the city life. By the time he had grown to adulthood, he knew his city like a bird knows its nest. For the rare occasion in which he needed help to find a place, he knew he could simply ask a passerby. The city was his, though he was by no means royal.

Per chance, our young man was near the city’s edge and chanced to take a walk in the neighbouring forest. Oh, how it brought back memories! The smells, the sights, the sounds! How could he ever have forgotten? Soon, however, the light filtering through the leaves began to dim and shadow began to escape its sharp bounds. It was long past time to have begun to head back and so our adventurer found himself a nice spot in a clearing to stay the night. Staring up at the stars, he listened to the sounds of the night and felt a gentle summer breeze caress him as he drifted off to sleep.

The first signs of daybreak came in the form of thousands of birds singing and twittering in the twilight. The stars began to fade as a golden glow shone upon the clouds in the east. Upon rising, our adventurer-turned-city-dweller realised that he felt better and calmer than he had in many years. Calm, until he realised that he no longer knew from which direction he had come…

As thoughts of the expanse of forest surrounding him began to swirl within him, he tried to reassure himself. Try as he might, however, he knew that he did not know the ways of the forest as he once had. He knew street-names and buildings and most of all, people. Here, he was alone and could not tell one stretch of green from the next. So busy was he with his thoughts of the forest, that he could no longer see the trees. Hoping against hope he decided on a plan: Pick a direction and walk straight. If he were lucky, he would choose the direction which corresponded to his city.

For hours he walked, learning on the way that his straight line was nearly impossible to follow. Trees, rocks, rivers and the occasional sounds of animals seemed to block his path at every step. He would try fervently to skirt the offending obstacles and set out once more on his straight line. The strange thing was, he began to notice patterns… Gnarled tree, dry riverbed, large clearing, stone blocks, gnarled tree, stone blocks, small pond, dry riverbed… His straight line was leading him in circles! Or could his mind be playing tricks? There were many areas of the city which looked similar… why not the forest? Upon reaching the stone blocks for the umpteenth time, (Were these the same blocks he had passed earlier?) he sat, put his head in his hands and closed his eyes. When he opened them, he noticed that the sun had just passed midday. It was the heat, beginning to become uncomfortable, that had awoken him from his half-sleep. He decided to re-trace his steps to the pond and cool off a little before starting out again.

The marginally cool water of the pond nevertheless brought with it an insight as he watched a group of ducks bobbing and splashing about. He noticed how they never seemed to swim in a straight line, but were always darting here, drifting there, diving under and surfacing. More than that, he noticed the small trails they left behind them as they swam. This gave him an idea. He knew that there were roads and paths through the forest, if he could only find them, but what he hadn’t considered was the paths made by nature herself. There must be animal trails and the like which led from somewhere to somewhere else. At least that would be better than tracing circles among the trees.

Scanning about and finding no such trails in sight he decided, now on the edge of complete despair, that if he were to live his final days lost among the trees, he would rather spend them in joy, as had the ducks. And so he looked around him for the most interesting thing to investigate, then headed off toward it. He observed a small clearing, filled with small lilac and indigo coloured flowers; a waterfall, cascading over some rocks; a lake with a small island in the center; a red fox; a family of robins… Onward he wended his way through the forest, passing from interest to interest and completely losing himself in the wonders of the wilderness.

As darkness began to fall once again, our explorer noticed something strange among the trees.. it was as if the sun were dancing upon the horizon, only just shining between the trees at forest-level. As he drew closer, he noticed that the horizon was very grey, almost like… “The city wall!” he exclaimed. The dancing sun had been the torches of the guards patrolling the perimeter where the city met the forest! As he approached them and told them his story, they commented on his probable hunger, thirst and weariness. As if on cue, he realised that he was indeed feeling famished, parched and utterly exhausted. They half-carried him to the east gate and passed him off to a carriage to be taken home.

As the cart-wheels bumped and bounced over cobbled streets our friend reflected on his adventure. The boy in him was pleased to have been acknowledged once more after so long. The man in him berated him at not being better able to find his way. He resolved to go back and learn to find his way once more to please his inner child, and his inner man. He knew that the ride home would not be long, yet he found himself drifting off even amidst the rattling and rocking of the carriage. His last sleepy thought was that he had lost his way amidst the forest, but had found it amongst the trees.

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