By Tenley Thompson, TIWP Student
Waking up comes in stages.
Time is sandy under her tongue, and the scratchy clock sees only stars reflected in its face in the unplaceable hours when the sky flickers brighter, uncloaked constellations, drowning in moonlight. Cool drafts of not-wind settle over her eyes-nose-mouth like the limestone-granite-slate that stacks the walls of the valley. Snowmelt sits atop the ridges, ice-crusted eyelashes stuck shut in a precarious, stony glimmering. In the ethereal darkness, she breathes the cold air, sharp going down her throat, and burrows deeper into her sleeping bag. Light is confusing, an anomaly that befuddles her with awe, so she drifts away, sleep fingers still grasping at the cosmos behind her unfathomable consciousness.
The second awakening comes with the sense of too early, freeze-dried eyelids squinting up at the light blue sky, somehow taking up more space, like it needs to prove itself. Sunrise is yet hidden behind reaching rocks and spindly trees that look half-alive in the shadow of dawn. Everything is still in a moment of almost, crystalline and deceptively harmless in its youth. She blinks as bird calls fall down the mountainside, the first sounds. Her brain ignites drowsily, falters. The chill of the lake, a glass paperweight, half-lit, is dignified in its silence, and slumber pulls her back down relentlessly, orange clouds sifting through her vision.
Morning burns holes in her sleeping bag and she rouses to find light flooding the valley. Shadows creep back like mossy tendrils and the rocks spring gray and chipped, obnoxiously bright. Snow is blinding, little stones set into the cliff that sparkle when the sun catches them. It’s too warm in the blatant announcement of day, so she shrugs off her jacket, clears her head. It’s easy to prod the lump next to her.
“Are you awake?” she whispers, because she knows they’re not. She’s the only one that rustles into a quick consciousness, like a wilting plant rising from the dew. The singularity of it is special, miles from civilization and completely isolated by wilderness, no strings attached. If the world fell overnight, the apocalypse wouldn’t reach them for days, a distant echoing of something they’ve already left behind.
The day stretches over streams and valleys, mountains and bushes, and the sky, always, a sea of options. Hiking is both the cliched transcendent experience and a monotony of plodding, familiar and exhilarating at the same time. Her foot catches on a root once, but she steadies herself on a nearby tree and walks away with only a scratch. It feels like breathing to reach the last ridge, let down the thirty-some pounds of her backpack, and remove the clunky shoes that protect her from water and bugs and rocks that wear down her feet. Exhaustion is an overbearing success.
Evening is a rebirth. Maybe it’s her own personal Renaissance, when her eyes go bright and her heart goes quiet and hot cider swallows warm down her throat. It’s not quite fulfillment but her mouth runs itself dry from laughter and lanterns glow like fireflies and maybe it’s something.