This Word Is Forest

By Harmony Button

Sometimes writing — as well as reading — is a kind of bushwhacking. Sometimes, the path exists, and you can almost feel it, underfoot, even when the scrub oak has reclaimed the openness above it, growing in from either side. Sometimes, you think there is a path, but all there is is your own inertia, and when that stalls, there’s no going forward.

This is what happened, the last night of my summer break, the night before I had to re-become my teacher-self and re-be school-responsible and all that good adult-like stuff: Jason and I started up the canyon as the day was slowly fading.

It takes a while for the sun to set inside a canyon — there is a surprisingly long lingering of diffuse light after the source has disappeared behind first the trees, and then the canyon wall, and then finally the far horizon, all the way across the valley, beyond the Oquirrh’s western range, through the double sunset that reflects back from the face of the Great Salt Lake.

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There is a certain kind of clarity that comes from spending time in forests — as if the forest canopy was the equivalent of a giant tin-foil hat on the world, blocking out all the alien mind-probes and toxic corn-waves. The denser the forest, the greater the protection, the sweeter the bubble of purity: a space set aside from the openness of other types of wilderness. In the lovely little poem “Sweet Darkness,” the poet David Whyte writes that “the night will give you a horizon / further than you can see.” A forest, like darkness, is a kind of closeness, and a boundless expanse. It is womb of limitlessness. Still, there comes a time when the emotional horizon stubs its toes against the literal rocks, and a flashlight comes in quite useful.

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