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I wove my way along the barely visible path, careful to keep my feet from unnecessarily treading upon and killing the abundant vegetation. The trail I was attempting to follow had been almost completely erased from months of non-use. Prickling vines of wild blackberries had already begun to claim the unused soil and patches of leafy green clovers broke through the muddy ground every few inches, not to mention the limbs of fallen trees that littered the forest floor, all threatening to trip my cautious feet.
I grinned as I recognized the winding wall of tree limbs a few meters ahead that separated me from my destination. My feet involuntarily paused in front of the maze of moss-covered branches as I examined the barrier for any sign of weakness.
A small hole in the barricade opened a few feet to the left of me, very near to the ground. Without a second thought I collapsed to my hands and knees and, ignoring the squelching mud and clinging vines, crawled forward. Dangling spider webs tangled themselves in my messy, strawberry-blonde hair, joining the countless brown twigs and vibrant green leaves that already crowned my tresses.
No matter. I could take a shower later, after I'd reached and returned from my destination.
My lips stretched in an excited, almost childish grin as the sound of bubbling water reached my ears.
The pace of my crawl quickened as I saw the exit of the leafy tunnel. Carefully hoisting myself upward so as not to rip my dirt-covered clothes, I gazed with unmasked excitement at the scene before me.
The wall of mossy branches stretched around me on all sides, leaving only a small, little knoll, maybe three- or four-meters wide. A three-foot wide stream bubbled from a break in the branches, cascading down into a small pool before rippling on in a winding path and exiting through a small, inch-high opening in the opposite wall. The brook was too wide to leap, and, even if one did manage to make it, there was the danger of slipping on the opposite bank where a pool of water-saturated mud lay in wait for the unsuspecting hiker.
Recalling my previous visits, I turned and skipped down the bank to where a sizable tree lay across the water, having been previously concealed by a small rise and fall in the land. I reached my sandal-clad foot forward, delicately testing the log for any sign of an invisible, rotten-core. The only sign of my intrusion was a small tremble along the trunk.
My smile grew as I placed my full weight on the fallen tree that was still as strong as ever. However, I fleetly skipped over the limb for fear that it would roll over and dump me into the placid water that appeared too peaceful to disturb without incurring the wrath of some nature spirit or nymph.
A ripple of wind fluttered through the trees, brushing them ever so slightly out of the way so that a soft, yet surprisingly blinding beam of light delved into the knoll, decorating the stream, leaves, and mud in sparkling, ever-changing patterns of wonder. Revealed in the sudden bright were a trail of the imprints of deer's hooves, all sizes: buck, doe, fawn. But no human footprints. It was only me.
I closed my eyes as a sigh of contentment escaped my lips and I twirled slightly on my toes. No, scratch that. It wasn't only me. It was never only me. It—this was everything.
And I loved it.