She stumbled toward the edge of the forest. Broken, bewildered, disoriented. She wasn't sure quite how she got here or quite how she was going to get home. She wasn't really certain of anything, of anyone. Of herself.
As she entered the forest, the birds gathering on branches above her called to one another. An insect hum provided a white noise bass line to their melody. The snap and crack of branches underfoot as she walked further into the forest created a syncopated, faltering percussion.
As she walked by one of the redwoods, she stumbled, her bare foot catching on a fern frond curling across the forest floor. She reached for the strong, thick old trunk of the tree; grasping it to catch her fall. Though the bark of the tree scraped skin from her forearms as she embraced it to stop from falling, she held it tighter as she regained her footing, as though her life depended upon it (and maybe it did).
She turned and leaned her back against the tree’s trunk, listening to the sounds above her. She closed her eyes and let the sounds - primarily the birdsong - wash over her. She became vaguely aware of the sap from the redwood’s trunk dripping at a seemingly glacial speed onto her shoulder as she stood, mesmerised by nature.
She shook her head, brushed her wild mane of hair back from her face, opened her eyes and looked around her. Eyes lingering on the eternity of trees stretching out in front of her, then the glimpses of sky through the canopy overhead, then falling on a cluster of mushrooms at the base of the trunk of the next ancient, towering tree.
She wove her way through the forest like a somnambulist. Dazed, her eyes unfocused. She felt like she'd somehow ended up being the last person on earth. She felt isolated, yet liberated. Free from other people, the crowds, the harsh sounds of the city. Surrounded by creatures possessed with the gift of flight, of music; self-sufficient in nature, without any need of humans.
She watched as a squirrel scurried across the forest floor and ascended to a branch to hoard its findings. She watched ants moving in armies up and down the length of a tree trunk, carrying morsels from the undergrowth into a knot in the wood. She envied them the simplicity of their lives. The ordered way in which the ants collaborated and cooperated. The home the squirrel had made overhead.
As she walked, she stooped from time to time to gather up some of the larger fallen branches until her arms were full. She moved toward a nearby clearing and carefully arranged the branches on the ground. She gathered more branches, not really thinking closely about what she was doing, just following some sort of instinct; a calming instruction sent directly from her mind to her limbs. She moved back and forth between the trees; selecting, collecting, depositing, nesting.
After a time the branches took on a form; a circular, welcoming shape that drew her in, made her feel more calm, more settled. At home. She continued adding to her construction, not thinking, just doing. Like the ants, but alone. The placement of the branches methodical, precise, yet appearing haphazard. The curve of the branches raised on one side and lower on the other; like some sort of pottery dish moulded by an amateur not yet skilled in the art of ceramics.
She paused as she approached her construction. Surveying it to assess whether it needed anything further, or was it complete? A gentle smile touched her lips as she decided it would do perfectly.
Her bare feet raw and stinging from walking back and forth across the forest floor; across twigs and branches and the odd soft cluster of fallen leaves and scattered fern fronds. Her shoulders and back warm with a satisfying ache from bending, lifting and carrying. She stepped into the circle of branches, bent her knees and gently placed her arse, thighs and lower back against the curve of the side of her construction, and leaning to one side, moulded her spine along the wall of the nest. Her hair tumbled over her face, obscuring her vision as she closed her eyes and the sound of the birdsong seemed to lift in her ears. She wrapped her arms around herself, embracing her aching body.
As she lay there in the forest, the thick smells from the undergrowth seeped into her nostrils. The smell of the wood, the soil, the musty smell of the mushrooms growing nearby. In her ears the continuing call and answer of the birds overhead, the hum of insects echoing across the space.
As she curled into herself further, one sentence gently circled in her mind: I am home.