When I was a teenager I knew a beautiful girl. She had long red hair, and the perfect arrangement of freckles on her nose, a nose that was so often wrinkled in laughter. I had a book of short stories called The Girl with the Green Ear, a book from when I was a small child. I can't remember a lot of the stories because I haven't read it in 10 years, but it was the book that opened my eyes permanently to seeing magic in nature. Some days were good, and some days were not so good, as it is with being a teenager.
But on the days that were not so good we would curl up together on a picnic blanket, taking turns reading aloud from the book until the other drifted off into sleep, borne on those clouds of forgetful imagination. We knew the words so well that we eventually didn't have to read from the book itself, and instead we'd both gaze up at the sky, spinning the stories back together with our combined memories. In this way the stories took on a life of their own, a life that twined with ours. When our adventures took us in different directions, I gave her the book to keep, a place to preserve the memories we put there.
When I was a grownup, I took a long walk in the woods. I met a beautiful girl along the way, a girl who loved to eat honey straight from the jar and taught me about the patterns in birdsong. She whistled songs and delighted in nonsense and science, a perfect combination. We met others along the way, people who would become part of a forest family, a traveling band of gypsy fairies, singing and dancing our way North. Some days were good, and some days were not so good, as it is with being a hiker.
But every night we would set up our tents mere feet from one another, so that we could whisper ideas and connections to one another. Sometime during our journey, this beautiful girl started reading aloud to us every night from a series of books she loved, and I had loved as a child. Every night she would read a chapter, taking on each voice with the ease and performance of a professional storyteller. Sometimes if the story was funny, she would have to stop reading mid-sentence, her words choked by her laughter and our ears clogged with our own laughter. Sometimes if the story was sad, she would cry as she read, and we would all cry silently in our own tents, all of us adrift in the same river of an imagined world.
Many nights as the chapter came to a close, she would look up from the book inside her tent to perfect silence, and she would know that she had read us all into wonderful, dream-filled sleep. The perfect antidote to a weary body and soul.
|In the midst of eating a bunch of honey.|
P.S. I know that this experience is not typical of a long-distance hiking experience, but I can only hope that in your travels you find yourself a Whistle, who will not only offer to read you to sleep, but will love to do it. Maybe you can be a Whistle for your own hiking family.
In either case, humans are meant to tell stories at nighttime, and I think we lose sight of that sometimes. Being in the woods can help us remember.