The winds here are charged, tensed and pressing against the maple barks. They themselves are holding onto the afternoon sun, anything and something to carry them through the unforgiving season to come. It is fall here, but clearly harsher than the falls in the cities. Every snowflake here seems to be larger, rounder. Its bulk settles on the branches before the afternoon rays are due to melt it away. The quiet amplifies the cold. The silence is not simple but deep and layered with the noise of troubled creatures not yet having found shelter before the first storm to arrive.
The snow has fallen briskly today, covering the ground, although not enough to hide all embers of the last summer. Despite the barren patches, the forest stands tall and rooted in the mountains. The mountains carry the dry land with frankness, with bluff –proud of the tragedy, prouder of the fight and the ultimate conquer of the fire. It carries the dug trenches as pearls, necklaces to be worn in glorious fashion. As the wild creatures step and crack the fallen branches, those too strong to burn, the noise echoes through the forest. It adds to its song of resiliency, its song of demure and tender beauty.
A house stands alone among the snow and ash. The mountain behind acts as a backdrop, too pretty to not be a painting hanging in a museum. The house is simple, even a little stale. There are no flowers left in the ceramic crocks. They were wilted by the morning frosts. The garden, or what was left of it and put back together, was picked dry. The marmalades of Saskatoon berries made it into jars, subsequently to delight the palette of young grandchildren. This house is not precious and there stands no reasonable explanation as to why it was saved. However, it was the will of the mountain to save this land, this house. Mother Edith’s soul said it would be so.
This house is not precious. The wood stove was salvaged and rusted on the legs. The floors creaked. The walls, timbered logs, let in morsels of cold air during the nights. There would be bunk beds in the corner of the cabin, with mattresses lifted and leaning against the walls at the end of summer. There would be no linens. Grandmother took them with her for a good washing. There was an outhouse, long gone now since the fires. There were no remains of swings, no remains of carvings in the barks, those indicating young love. The young love was now long gone too, having faded with every blink of the eye.
There stands a girl, a woman in fact. Her feet were tired and sore after the quarter day hike up the rock. She followed the burn path up. This place seemed so different now. The cabin, the home, she looked at did not feel like a home now. It was much smaller than in her memories and she was much older than she thought she would be revisiting it. She hoped to cry in awe seeing the cabin, to feel a shiver down her spine, but all she felt was the cold against her aging cheeks. Her freckles are the same as they were back then, speckles like on a Bar at the Folies-Bergères. Her blonde hair, now long, looked different than back then. The strands are no longer seasoned with dirt and sap. Her hair no longer smelled like glacier rivers, the same ones she would bathe in as a child.
The evening is settling into the crevasses of the mountains. Soon it will be dark, a blinding darkness that penetrates the soul to make it quiver and taut the hairs at the back of the neck. The woman approaches the cabin, expecting an epiphany or something of the sort. All that happens is the noise beneath her feet. The cracking of pinecones resonates through the air, adding to the symphony of wolves in the forest below and the bear bells around her waist.
She opens the plain door, past the enclosed porch, to a plain room, one that she remembers well. There are no more photographs or needle points on the wall. They had been all taken down by her mother once the sale of the property had gone up.
The woman passes her hand along the log walls. It feels rough and lacquered, just as she remembers. This house is not precious, but the memories within are. Her life is not simple as this space is. Her life is scheduled yet hectic. Her life is expensive cafes, soft clothes, and warm cars. Her life is manicured, well thought out and precise to the word. She is not wild as the fires were. She is not stoic as the cabin is. It stands alone on barren land, on flowerless land. Although a sheet of white covers the metal roof, she senses the rust and the rivets holding the structure together. She feels the strength of the timber, holding steady. The mountain too is hardy and unyielding. Why is she not?
Darkness looms around the corner, behind the distant trees and their needles gently swaying in the wind. She throws timber in the stove and lights it with eight-dollar matches, packaged afar and sold in a high-end clothing store as kitsch. The room grows empty and dark. The only thing that remains are the bunk beds, they had been built into the frame of the cabin. There were no mattresses, only solid boards to lay her sleeping bag on.
It would be rough sleeping, but it would be honest. She settled herself in, her mind as blank as the dark sky. The corners of the cabin were dark and haunting. She stayed by the warmth of the fire, trying to put pen to paper. She did not know what the words would turn into as she held the tip of the pen to the page. Nothing came spewing out of it. Nothing. She was dry.
She looked into the fire for inspiration, some sort of sense of self. She looked for the spark she had lost, consumed by the idea it fell out of her pocket on her last journey away from this very place. It was the moment she would never return to, an era forever lost and rushed too quickly. She was a child, now forever a woman, never to return to the state of pure happiness and innocence of the mountains. She shed a tear looking into the flames that gave her no inspiration. They only gave her sadness. She watched the fire die and turn into crackling embers, begging to soar highly just once more.
Silence encapsulated her. She felt like a little girl again, but not the one she was before. She was not carefree and running around the stumps of tress or throwing water balloons at her cousins behind the shed.
This woman is curled inwards, towards her spine and rests in a place of loneliness and defeat. She had no reason to be, as she had love and empathy towards her fellow woman. She felt low, in a place she had too often been before, driven by the demons in her head. The uselessness amplified, the demonstrative need to succeed, everything she wanted to be but was not. It all lay underneath her, rocking her to sleep as the demented lullaby she knew all too well.
Sleep would come to this woman, painfully, but it would come. It was a dreamless sleep, perhaps driven by the negative thoughts or it could have been the cold. She would convince herself it was the latter, if only to ignore the fact that her feelings of inadequacy were indeed within her.
It may be all too easy to blame it on every dirty finger creeping up the skirt. To blame the sadness and the emptiness on the cracked jaw and the bruised knees would be tempting. But she is woman. A woman is meant to thank every punch and every playful slap. She is meant to bury her blood and speak of it nevermore.
With every step she takes, she sinks a little more into the dirt, weighed down by every terrible thought and image. Here she is. Alone once more to face the demons. She fights with no sword and no bullets in her gun. She fights bare-knuckled against a wall, built by her own calloused hands.
Behind every glass of wine stood a reason. A reason for her to be small, unforgiving, and cruel. It is exhausting to hurt, to weep. With every tear cast off, the voices in her head become louder. They shout at her temples, the curses and harsh sentences reverberating against her skull.
She awoke to the bells in her head. It was still dark. No sunlight would creep through the frosted windows. The air was intense and icy. As she reached for a log next to the stove, she heard it.
It was a humming.
And then it stopped. She looked around her. Nothing had changed, nothing had moved. The humming resumed. It was a low humming, the sort that was unnoticeable and unremarkable unless paid attention to. It was much like her.
Her bare feet slipped out of her down sleeping bag and she gently returned the log to the ground next to the stove. The cold nipped at her toes, almost like a playful tickle. She rose to her feet, her body motionless while her ears focused around the room. The sound came from outside. It was tempting and precious.
Her legs led her to the door as she pushed the panel outwards. The forest presented itself as a picture, perfectly framed by the edges of the covered patio. Suddenly, it was dark no more. The trees were not lifeless as they were this past evening. They were lush and full of adventures. The smell of lunch tempted children back to the homestead, even though the mountain would eventually entice them again every afternoon.
The woman stepped down from the patio. Her feet felt cold, piercing and blood-rushing cold but the sun was out. It was bright and warm upon her skin. She saw the flowers in the painted crocks blooming, their fragrance would fill the air and be carried off by the soft winds to the peaks. She heard the humming once more. It was soft and childlike. She looked behind her.
A little girl sat of the steps, pulling the petals of a black-eyed Susan. Her eyes were downcast, but her slight grin showed her to be at peace. She was small, with freckled skin, blonde hair and dynamite blue eyes. Content in her ways, the girl looked up at the sky and smiled.
The woman looked up too, but in a blink, it was dark once more. She stood on frozen tundra looking at the sky as her toes turned blue.
It was illuminated with thousands of stars and the brushstrokes of the aurora; a light show just for her. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she watched the sky sway and as the harsh wind tickled her sockless ankles. It was too early in the season for such a beautiful display of nature, but the mountain said it should be so. The mountain knows the troubles of those who love it dearly, keeping the rocks in their hearts to carry the memories around the globe. For in each travel, each step away from its base, the mountain knows the pain and sorrow she carries in her pockets.
The mountain is strong, robust yet kind and warm. It is a place to forgive and to offer the little tragedies a place to stay. For they shall not be forgotten but healed in this sacred place. For she is a woman who was once a child does not mean that the spark has since disappeared. Because a woman retains the fire, burying it deep within the soul, ready at any moment to awaken the senses. Even burned to a crisp, the trees hold steady onto the preciousness of a light soul. Each branch is ready to reveal secrets, once lost but now found.
She cries a little more until the peaks are illuminated from behind. She feels lighter, not healed but lighter. She walks towards the cabin. Perhaps this cabin is precious, she thinks. As the ink bleeds onto the paper, creating words of quaint reassurance, she writes. What she writes of is dear to her, an offering from the mountain and her as a messenger. What she writes may be fiction or truth. It may come from within her or simply stolen from what the wildfires left behind.
The woman folds the pages neatly and with intent. She is numb when sealing the envelope. She places it on the now cold stove.
As she walks away from the cabin, all possessions in tow, she smiles and enjoys every single step down to the village below. She hums with the marmots, common butterworts and the wolves, each adding a melody to the majesty of the orchestra.
Following a burnt forest trail stands a home, a beating heart. For each sadness offered in earnest to the sierra, a flower blooms under the ashes. In this land stands a friend, a confidant that tells no lies. Peace is often far-reaching, an unattainable treasure. Put on a pedestal and protected with glass walls, this peace needn’t be so dramatic. Forgiveness is found in crevasses and unassuming curves of the river. Love is found in the winds and carried wherever one goes. All tears shall eventually be swept away by the glacier falls and offered to another. Every dark sky is illuminated, even with just one lonely star.
On a stove in the woods rests a sage green envelope. This letter, written in sober peace, is offered and addressed to a friend.
ROXANNE CLAUDE was born in Pembroke, Ontario. Roxanne now lives with their partner and two dogs in Camrose, Alberta and works full time as a Paramedic.
Copyright © 2020 by Roxanne Claude. All rights reserved.