I Climbed The Path by A. R., Fall River, MA
After dinner, I climbed the path in the fashion that had now become a ritual. Up the three natural stairs, around the bend, I paused by the Sanche Rock and added a stone to the large pile. I did some quick counting and found there to be eighty stones of various shapes and sizes carefully placed together and, now, looking as one. I crossed the final stretch of path to Thinking Place and made some mental computations. Knowing that I had added a rock every time the ritual had been performed and that I had been here two months, I realized I had come up here at least once a day. As I looked out at the landscape, I focused my gaze at the details I had come to adore. The canopy of trees flowed into the valley to meet the facade of the mountain so that it seemed to grow from the valley floor, towering higher and higher until it touched the sky some four hundred feet above me. I listened to the babble of the crystal clear stream. Hidden by the thriving underbrush along its banks, the only visual evidence of the stream's existence was a small pond that, looking misplaced in the sea of green, lay on the right at the base of the mountain. The sparkling pond was just large enough to be a favorite oasis of the resident animals, and they could be seen drinking from its banks before the stream once again flowed into invisibility and the forest below.
My ears picked up another sound and, before my eyes saw the long, graceful form floating lazily in the cool evening air, they identified the flapping of a bird's wings. I wonder what kind of bird that is, I thought. I'll ask Mark tomorrow, my self replied. But this is the last day you'll be able to do that. My mind presented the thought roughly, and the harshness of it marred the beauty of the moment. I was scheduled to depart from the seclusion of the beautiful African rain forests the next day and to return to the United States and the university. I looked toward my doctoral quest and found none of the anxiety I expected. I continued to search my feelings, but discovered only a calm peacefulness. I realized that the fear and apprehension that had caused me to escape and join Peace Corps was no longer in me; I was mentally prepared for the challenge. I gazed inward still deeper to find that my self had calmly accepted the fact that I would spend the next four to six years of my life earning my doctorate. But there was something ... there. I dragged the thing up from the depths of my subconscious, as it struggled to remain hidden. As it entered my consciousness, I found it to be a simple, single thought: I don't want to leave. My mind stopped, stunned at itself. But didn't I just discover I was ready, not even nervous? Yes, my self answered, but you don't want to leave. Think about it. And the thought, like a butterfly, perched there in the front of my mind for me to see.
The sounds of the forest broke into my thoughts, and as I looked down at it, my gaze traveled upward to the horizon and saw the rows of vegetation continue on into infinity. Why do I want to stay? I've never worked so hard. Even as I sat, I could feel my muscles, but it was that good sore that comes only when they've worked and are now resting. I was tired, and I was hungry, but somehow as I sat there that was good. Then the thought came like a glorious sunrise, shedding light on everything; I realized why I loved it here, why I had become between the lines, part of the here. The satisfaction and the joy I got helping these people could not be compared to teaching high school students who didn't care. Three new huts and a completed well meant more to me than ten Teacher of the Year awards. But that wasn't all the light illuminated; I saw that I was living the dream that had been planted in me so many years ago.
The men and women who made me want to teach literature were Ralph Waldo Emerson and the rest of the transcendentalists. The ideas and visions that my sophomore English class had extrapolated from their works had stayed with me all through my schooling and their beauty was what had driven me onward. I worshipped their ideals, and I wanted to share those feelings with others, to show the beauty and bring the dream to other young people living in a world of cold facts and even colder realities. But now I knew that I had wanted something else even more, something much more selfish; I wanted the dream for myself. I wanted to live it; I wanted to become the transparent eyeball. And here I was, in the middle of more beauty than I could ever have thought possible. I was building with nature, drawing my energy from it, and, in some bizarre form of payment, giving back to its simplest people man created "necessities" of life. I was trying to be the funnel through which the lessons of nature could pass, and nature was rewarding my attempts in her kind way, as one might reward a baby who is trying to color in between the lines, by giving a peace to my soul that I had not had since long before high school. The butterfly in my mind, having delivered its message left its perch and flew into the forest below.
My eyes slowly focused on the tree at which I had been absently staring. A lizard was sitting there, his bright colors glowing against the dull, tan bark. He seemed to nod his head before shuffling away. Yes, I would stay. Nature had brought the rushing boulder that was my life to a gentle halt. She had carved away the dirty, dusty fragments of sorrow, pain, and destroyed dreams and left only the simple thing that was my self. Nature found this form, not beautiful, not pure, but completely malleable, and molded it into a basin that would at least partially retain the peace and native knowledge that flowed from her. And as I watched the sun melt into the lush forest and heard, floating up from the canopy, the sounds of the other creations of nature who occupied the night, I knew that for now I would stay here, and that if I ever left, it would be to a place like this where nature, my tutor, and God, my guide, would be close beside me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.