My father was in the military, he was a career man, and thus I had the childhood of a military brat. Constantly changing duty stations, we moved every two to three years, forcing me to make new friends and forever casting me as the "New Kid." In some odd twist of fate, or perhaps through the machinations of my clever father, we were more often than not stationed in an area not proximal to an urban area. I spent my childhood in the sticks.
I loved the forest and felt privileged that I had the capacity to enjoy its splendor. I would frequently spend hours simply wandering between the trees or engaging in more imaginative fantasy play. It was most beautiful to me in the winter eve though. When the snow fell it changed the landscape completely. The chilly blanket of old man winter settled upon every branch and blade, absorbing the sound of my destructive footsteps as I blundered through the friendly maze of tree trunks. At night, when the subtle sounds of life lay down for slumber, the forest was silent, much like I imagine the moon to be. When the moon is full and bright it reflects off the snow and ice, illuminating the underbrush and pathways with an otherworldly tint of azure.
It was a night like this that I found the field. I had wandered farther than normal and was deep in the woods behind our home. The night was late and the moon shone bright in a cloudless sky. I could hear birds, but only in the distance as the crunching of my boots against the hard crust of snow warned them of my approach. I broke from the cover of the trees and beheld an enormous empty field. The blanket of snow was unbroken before me and marred only by the slight topography that can't be escaped in Alaska. The field was too large to be natural and its edges were relatively straight, only proving the presence of the hand of man.
I was no doubt in a field of hay, left fallow through the long arctic winter. Without the arboreal cover I could clearly see the slowly blinking eye of the moon. As I traveled through the clearing it seemed colder, but not frighteningly so. My breath was sharp and crisp on my tongue and when I exhaled the warm air from my lungs it hung in the still air, sparkling beneath the gaze of old man moon. When I reached what I imagined to be the center of the field, I stopped and looked around. My forest spread around me, and my feeling of isolation was increased by the absolute lack of noise and artificial light. Had the world ended at that moment I would not have known, nor would I have cared.
I closed my eyes, and strained to hear anything but my own cool breathing. I failed, yet I kept my eyes closed. I began to move, one foot after another, keeping the world shut out from behind my tightly closed lids. I wandered, blind, with no regard for direction or pace. I kept at this task for what seemed to me the all of time. In reality it couldn't have been more than thirty or forty five minutes.
After a time the exercise seemed complete, although I had reached no obstacle. I opened my eyes and from my new vantage point I regarded the field again. I was no longer in the place I started and had no immediate idea from where I had entered the field. Turning, I beheld my path. My footprints had left a winding path behind and before me. The path was aimless and slithered both left and right. Like the great worm, it turned upon itself and wound beneath the gaze of its eternal proctor.
I beheld my path for several moments. Eventually I determined the task complete, and taking a sighting from the moon and the silhouette of the horizon's craggy mountains, I found my path again and returned home. I made some connection that night, with nature, or god, or myself. Something so simple, it's too complicated for words. I felt alone and all at once part of something larger, more important. The result was so satisfying that I never returned to that field or attempted the exercise again. Partly because I felt it complete, but partly because I feared it would never be so beautiful again.
These days I live in the desert, and I miss the forest.