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It was springtime; I opened the back door to my house and walked out into my front yard. Although it was spring, I was wearing my high, leather boots, so as to protect myself from bugs crawling into my socks; it was a rather immature precaution. The shadows of blooming trees rolled over the wrinkled fabric, and soon my foot landed on the overgrown grass with a soft, barely audible sound of the blades of grass bending under my weight. My feet threatened to break the tiny wildflowers, bending out of the way of my shoe, stems radiating from the edges of my grounded foot. I took another step, and another, until I stopped. I noticed dry, spindly, winter branches reaching out towards me from my right, and a single, high evergreen, its lower branches swooping down, and fanning out. Dead leaves from the last fall were pushed into the ground by the snow, rain, and natural world. If I were to have picked up one little leaf, I'm sure that a little indent would have been left in the ground, and the rest would stay forever, and turn into little individual fossils, for recording the important memories that had occurred here for me. I took a few careful, tentative steps towards the bottom of the hill, where the grass was slowly morphing to moss. I glanced up ahead of me and saw the same tree I had been expecting: my favorite oak tree. I threw my shoes off to reveal my naked feet, and took large, halting steps downhill. It was spring and the green leaves shaded my eyes, and as I looked up the leaves cover seemed thicker than the last time I had been here. I took a step closer to the tree and rested my curious fingers on its bark. My padded fingertips could feel the rough texture, and my bare palm felt the warmth of the living tree beneath it.
I reached my other arm up to the nearest branch, grabbed hold of it, and swung my legs up onto the branch, I kept doing this with branches of different size until I reached the very highest branches, in my usual sitting place, with my head peering out above the top branches, to the grassy pastures surrounding me. This is where I often came to simply sit and think: a great place, away from everything else. I've always loved to just look around, and watch the tall wheat grasses sway in the wind, rolling like the ocean waves that were a thousand miles away. My arm lay limp over my knee, my hand draping slack, and my clean fingernails brushing against the leaves of the tree. My eyes traced down my long arm, along my slender fingers, and off the end of my nails, along the branch I sat upon. My eyes followed the deeply gnarled wood until the very end, where the branch got lost in a constellation of leaves. I chose another one like pathways in the brain and followed its path, tracing it to the clear blue, cirrus sky. My eyes searching, fleeting back and forth, looking for the one thing I needed, protection. I needed to be saved from the nights in which I stayed up, listening to the muffled, loud, voices of my parents that I could hear from downstairs.
They had always fought, it seemed continuously. I sometimes wondered if they ever had nice things to say about one another. They were put under a lot of stress because of my existence; I inferred from their fights that I had been an accident. Although they loved me dearly, my schooling had cost them much, and times were hard. My dad thought my mom was overly-controlling, and my mom considered my dad lazy. I couldn’t remember when the fighting began, I think because it had been happening for such a long time, since I was an infant. This tree was more of a parent to me. This is where I came to when I needed to get away from them, and from the stress that they caused me.
I grew weak and my back thudded against the trunk of the tree. I exhaled, letting out what felt like thirty pounds of invisible weights resting on my shoulders, tugging at the corners of my lips. I sat there and enjoyed the shade of my tree, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes as I felt the warm and gentle wind flutter my eyelashes. I sat, felt time go by, and watched the sun get stronger and weaker through the change in hue of the inside of my eyelids from brown, to red, to orange, to a yellow that somehow had an undertone of indigo. As I watched the colors blur together, mixing and changing, and heard larks singing, and the light rhythm of their feet landing on the branches surrounding me, I fell asleep . . .
I gained consciousness, slowly, my eyes fluttered open, realized they didn't have the strength to keep themselves that way, and shut again, only slightly lighter than before. After a few rounds of trial and error, I ultimately opened my eyes. The light was bright, but a different sort than before I had fallen asleep; this light was coming from a strikingly red, setting, sun, just beyond the forest at the end of the horizon. I blinked a few times, trying to make it even easier to adjust to this new light, and noticed how indecipherable the color of the sun was, it seemed to shine differently brilliant shades of orange and red at every moment.
As I looked into the sun, I noticed a black dot in the distance, as it approached closer I could tell that this was a black bird of some sort, with a yellow beak. It circled, wide, free circles, above the horizon, just over the edge of the darkened forest. I watched it circle, patrolling its territory for a minute until its head snapped towards the lone tree I was sitting on in the middle of the wheat field. It suddenly started flying towards me, but I wasn't afraid because somehow I knew the bird had no bad intentions, it was simply startled. Its was soaring slowly, riding on an air current, but still lazily coming my way. The fiery, pink, sunlight glinted off the feathery black tips of its shining wings and onto the wheat grass below. Now I could see that this was no ordinary black bird, no, it was a crow; black as coal. Its yellow beak, tough and indifferent, opened and let out a loud “Cacaw!” that echoed through the evening silence. It echoed when it hit the house. It shrieked again, this time loud enough that I saw the leaves on deciduous trees in the darkening forest ruffle themselves. I suddenly realized how enormous it really was; it swooped in with its talons outstretched, and picked me up by the two large tendons stretching across my shoulders and swept me off my feet. It beat its wings a few more times to keep us from falling, but once we were caught up in the wind, nothing was stopping us. This wasn't uncomfortable at all for me actually, it was as if I had been made this way to be carried by my mother from a very young age, like a young lion cub. No sooner than the thought went through my head did I look down to see my feet had transformed into paws and my legs suddenly the shorthaired legs of a golden, female, lion. My whole body had changed, and I could see the short, white hairs on my stomach tousled by the gentle breeze, to reveal the vulnerable, pink, flesh, beneath. My eyes peaked out from between thick layers of skin coated in golden fur which faded from deep caramel to gold, in patches and stripes that blended together like the layers of the sky. I could see the edge of my wet, pink, nose at the end of my snout encircled by long, white, whiskers; sensitized to every air current, every change in temperature. My tiny pink tongue swiped around my mouth to realize that I now had extremely sharp teeth: white and pristine. I bared them as I let out a wide yawn, and watched the sky turn from orange to grey. I looked up at the crow with searching eyes; the crow had a self-assured expression on its face, if a crow can even be said to carry an expression on its face. I wondered where the crow was taking me, how long it would take us to get there, and why we were leaving home. I looked behind me and saw my favorite tree sitting there, alone in the middle of the wheat field, but now my house seemed to have disappeared from atop that same hill it once sat upon. Simply vanished. I tried to get the crow to let me go, I wriggled, twisted, and pawed the air, but my efforts were futile. I needed to find out what happened to my house, my parents, everything I had once known. I needed to return to my safe tree, but the crow’s talons stayed fast and I gazed gloomily on as the tree and the place where my home had once resided rolled over and past the dark horizon.
The evening sky was now as black as the crow that carried me through it. The sky was speckled with white stars that almost left no space to see the darkness in-between them; they seemed to sit there like grains of sand suspended in waves, which themselves lapped against the horizon, and the moon had risen, full and bright, from the East. The moonlight cast an unearthly glow on the stalks of wheat, every one of them waving back and forth in time with each other, almost in an eerie rhythm. Even from way up here, I could hear the whipping, whooshing reverberation of what seemed like the stalks scraping against one another, but it was hard to tell whether that sound was the stalks, or simply the wind, whispering quiet secrets in my now finely tuned ears. The planet was rotating beneath my limp paws, the wheat grass changing to dry, cool dirt besieged my weeds, and then eventually trees began appearing, thick trees, just like my tree, except now there were hundreds upon hundreds of them, surrounding me from every direction.. My chest heaved in and out, as my warm breathing escaped my lips and my small tongue lay on top of my bottom incisor teeth, my jaws opened and my eyes wildly looking around me.
All the while, the crow had shown no signs of losing its way; it kept on with a confident beating of its wings, as if it knew its way through this un-navigable forest. Even though it had come from the west, beyond the trees on the edge of the glade, it seemed like it knew this particular area without even having been here before. This made me want to know where we were headed, even more than before. Unable to form coherent sentences with my small pink tongue and newly formed mouth I let out a snarl, which became a sputtering hiccup, which faded into a quiet cough. The crow took no more notice of me than it had since it had snatched me away from everything.
We kept on flying all through the night. Occasionally a hooting owl would cross our path as it fluttered from the top of one tree to the next, or a shuffle could be heard in the leaves of the trees below us; possibly just the warm wind blowing through the dark forest, shushing the sounds so that the animals could fall to sleep peacefully. The quiet whooshing of the leaves of the trees brushing against each other gave me the internal sensitivity to an oncoming storm, for some extraordinary reason. It was the way that the puffs of wind sometimes rustled the leaves faster, then slower, and then stopped. I fell asleep to the comfortable sounds of the forest, with the warm, black spring air hugging everything from my furry paws to my whiskered snout, whisking the sweat from my anxious temples.
I woke up the next morning, my shoulders very tight from being carried so far, still hanging from the claws of the black crow. We were no longer above the dazzling and misleading forest, but above a wide open plain, not unlike the grasslands in Africa. The tree trunks were dry, crackled from lack of moisture. The whole scene was drifting beneath my swaying paws, which were limp in the dry heat. As I looked on ahead of me, I could see the heat waves rising above the earth, making the horizon vacillate like an earthquake. The tree trunks and the air around them were blurring, as the leaves smudged together like a colossal painter had licked his thumb and ran it across the entire world. But now the whole world was black on the edges and I could only see what was directly ahead of me, the lone tree, my tree was finally here! I was almost there! All I could see now was the world revolving slowly around me as my vision went completely. My range of vision kept getting smaller until I gave up, let my eyes roll back in my head, and let it all slip away.
I felt twigs pushing consciousness through the dark: back into my exhausted body. I opened my eyelids, first raising my top lids slowly and steadily, and then pulling back the bottom ones with the utmost resistance. Now I could see that I was lying in the nest of the black crow, which was plopped a few feet away from me with its orange talons tucked underneath its folded wings. I rested as best I could with twigs poking into my bare back. I rolled onto my pink belly and let out a wide, quiet yawn, like the tired cat I was, and bared my small yet ferocious teeth and black gums.
Before I knew what had hit me, I felt extremely drowsy, even though I had just been sleeping. My mind was feeling fuzzy, and I could not gather my thoughts together, which made me afraid. I was losing grasp of my surroundings and even the crow, but I trained my eyes on the crow, everything became as black as the past night and soon the black beak of the crow was the only visible thing in the darkness…
I rested for a while, and finally woke up, safe and sound, in my tree. I felt like it had been days since I had left here, and I looked down to see that I was no longer in my former state. I swiveled my head around to check my state of reality, not sure anymore if this was a dream, but then I assured myself when I looked behind me to see my almost forgotten house, with my back door still left ajar.