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The forest that was once so alive now chills me. In this thirty degree heat I'm actually shaking. The trees that sheltered so many with their spreading canopy of green and provided so much are now lifeless sticks of charcoal, no more vibrant than the old lamp-posts in the city. The unfettered light illuminates the scorched ground and still that smell of burning lingers despite the rain. They couldn't beat us in court so they brought cheap petrol and a five cent matchbook. Who will stand in the way of their progress now? If I were to close my eyes I would still see the virescent mosaic above, feel the humid air and hear the sounds of the frogs. But I won't, I can't. This reality was cruel enough the first time when we stood mute before the flames, I don't think I could survive that again.
The forest was one of those places which had no palpable reason to exist. It was a creaking shack created by nature to serve as a reminder that things could always be much, much worse. The unnatural, choking mist that swirled and sprawled on the forest floor was the first thing that spoke of a strange sort of wrongness. The sickly white substance seemed to possess liquid properties which only reminded of the maggot-like texture of the eyes of a dead man who had been forgotten in his apartment for a few months, ready to burst at the slightest touch. The smoke made no sound however and only parted to swallow up her feet as she marched upon the giant dead, festering eyeball of the forest floor. The sound of mushy and dead leaves whispered from under the skin of the mist.
In the forest the sky vanishes almost completely, only a few fragments of blue remain- like scattered pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. The air is rich with the fragrance of leaves and loam, damp too. Even so many hours after the rains have passed, the soil remains wet, slowly releasing its heady fog. Outside is the noon daylight, the powerful rays of early summer, but in here everything is cool and the colours have the softness of that time just before twilight. The only movement is the occasional bird, startling in a tree or a squirrel dashing up a nearby trunk. The sound of running water in the brook has the same hypnotic quality as music, I want to stop just to drink in the sound. The huckleberries are mostly red, tart but with just the right amount of sweetness. I take in all the air my lungs will hold and expel it slowly. These hikes in the forest are like a trip out of my life, a visit to somewhere the measuring of time is done only by the rising and setting of the sun.
I never wear shoes in the forest. I know there are bugs and sharp sticks but I need the feel of the earth between my toes. I have to touch the rough bark and break leaves in my hands to smell them. I need to look up at the leaves, glowing as the light passes through them. In this way the harshness of the sun is muted, its rays are softer, less brilliant. The air is freshest after a rainfall and the water seeps from the path over my toes with each step. I know I must look a sight, but I take the paths less traveled and you'd be amazed at how few people I can meet. Here my thoughts fly to the canopy above, free, but protected by the boughs. My emotions sink back to base-line, a reboot for my brain. Then when I am ready to emerge I pull the rubber boots from my backpack, rinse my feet from a water bottle and put on the thick socks my mother is expecting to be on my feet. If she ever knew she'd glue them on and that would really ruin things.
The ground of these forests, formed from the remains of trees falling, in successive generations, for centuries, is most eccentric: sometimes raising itself in the shape of a mountain, to descend suddenly into a muddy swamp, peopled by hideous alligators wallowing in the green slime, and by millions of mosquitoes swarming amidst the fetid vapours exhaled, sometimes extending itself endlessly in plains of a monotony and regularity truly depressing.
Ahead the forest trees are thinner, a clearing perhaps or a glade? As we draw closer we can see that it is neither. The firm ground gives way to a marsh of tall reeds, the soil submersed in water. The autumn sunlight falls directly onto a tree trunk, likely felled for just this purpose, a bridge. There is no hand rail, nothing to steady oneself. The drop isn't dangerous, just one hell of a messy landing. With one careful boot I test the bark. It's damp with a smattering of moss, likely the sunrays keep the worst of it off. It isn't too slippery, but it's no concrete sidewalk. It's has a girth of about three arm spans, yet the top is still curved. Time to take a deep breath and just go- eyes on my feet and the next half metre of tree, arms raised like a tightrope walker. Steady. Steady. One footfall at a time until the other bank appears.
The forest path is wide and civilized. The city has used our taxes to lay wood-chips and place garbage bins along the route. The trees are so separated by this swathe they have cut that I still need my sunglasses. The brilliant rays are not dappled but shine hotly from above as strong as at any beach without the benefit of a cooling onshore breeze. But all that will change in twenty minutes, then the noble efforts of the bureaucrats will end and the forest will reassert itself. The path will twist, snaking around the ancient trees. The roots will criss-cross, gnarled and uneven- as beautiful as any picture book illustration. I will take in the colours with unshielded eyes and use my hands where the path rises in steep, uneven rocky steps. I have a map of this place carefully stored in my head. My boots have trodden these paths so often that the soles are wearing thin, but I cannot tire of this place, this forest. I may live in a tower of concrete but my heart will always live here.
The forest does not care for seconds or minutes, even hours are inconsequential. The smallest measure of time here is the cycle of daylight and darkness. Even then the forest is more in tuned with the seasons: rebirth brought by the warmth of spring, darkened foliage from summer's kiss, the onset of fall and then the keen bite of winter. Here in the forest so little can happen in the time it takes for me to change from a child into a woman, to gain and loose so much. Perhaps that is why I love to be here- it stabilizes the rapidity of my thoughts, grounds me in a place where ticking of clocks is unregarded. A place where I can let go of the demands of technology. Cell phone off. Just me, the trees and my good boots. I only need care for the sun's position in the sky. Free therapy. Reboot. Reset.
All the trees were tightly-knit, just one strand in a massive web of life. Green leaves, yellow leaves, red leaves. It was a rainbow of rich, autumnal colours. The scent of earth and water drifted through the air. It was a picture of serenity, one which would endure for many long years.
The bushes and trees of low growth had disappeared, to make room for gigantic mahogany trees, century old cork trees, and the acajou, whose sombre branches formed a vaulted roof of green eighty feet above his head. The path had grown wider, and stretched, in a gentle incline, towards a hillock of moderate height, entirely free from trees.
The drone of insects humming started the usual routine of awaking dawn. Slowly, the forest came alive with the layers of sounds echoing in the cold morning air. Little frogs croaked under large, broad leaves. The webs were stringed with delicate drops of morning dew, glistening in the first shards of sunlight. While the all the humans were still asleep in slumber land, the animals in every corner of the earth are awaiting for a new dawn.
The trees had become personal. They became individuals with emotional value,
one evoking darkness and another standing in the light of some wisdom. It was
refreshing, not to be alone, but scary when the huge trees looked down with stern judgment. So, walking among them was a joy and a fearful experience at the same time.
She dashed through the woods, leaping over thin winding creaks and the slippery rocks. She dodged and zipped past rotting oak trees and under lowered and snapped branches. Everything blurred into dizzying blend of earthly colours. The earth was wet and moist under her bare pink skin. She jumped into a muddy brook, swollen by the recent rains, soaking up her dress. The woods began to widen and thin layers of fallen pine needles and sentinels disguised the perilous and rocky terrain. She ran besides the twisted creek which was mirrored the deep greens of the trees. She leaped over a fallen pine tree which had damned the flow. She opened her ears to the mouth of the treetops and listened to the trees, as they sang the songs of life.
The woods, serene, calm, beautiful, natures garden. Oaks, Beech, Silver Birch, Holly bushes, winding path of mud gets boggy in places as it falls into gullies and rises up the hill, Sound or tinkling water, a stream rushes by in it's steep sided ditch, splashing on the rocks, cascading down small waterfalls, carrying twigs and leaves into small natural dams, leaves dance gaily on trees up above, dapple the light, intermittent shade, bird song rises and falls in sweet melodious chorus, snow drops amidst the trees, squirrels scamper and scurry up and down tree trunks.
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side of the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land.
The forest that stood here now was eerie. I had once played in it when I was young with the other children. I look at it now and I would smile if I didn't know where the people went when they never came back... My house had stood near it before the fire, now what stood there was rubble and burnt pieces of memories that would be long forgotten.... And it was all its fault.... That thing that killed my brother....
Darkly foreboding, ominous sounds, creaking, whispering trees, thicker leaves and thick undergrowth at the forest edge, overhanging branches, narrow and twisting path, denser wood, choked with brambles, matted undergrowth, thick bushes, ditch, sprawling branches, stiff branches.
innumerable sizes and shapes, massive girth, mighty oaks, towering glaucous pines, trunks straight, bent, twisted, gnarled, knotted, leaning, squat, green with moss, shaggy, slimy, lichen covered, interlacing roots, thick undergrowth, huckleberry bushes, ferns, no undergrowth, bare earth, barren.
Bugs zipped in and out of my ears, humming and buzzing their little annoying songs. Mosquitoes landed on the only exposed skin I had, but I quickly slapped them away. Through the itchiness of bugs being in my general vicinity, I managed to get my boot stuck in a marsh puddle on the bank of the green-brown stream. The mud sucked on my foot before I got the steadiness to shake my foot free and flick off some of the soggy clods. The earth released my foot with slushy but undeniable pop!