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The Wild

I love rain. I love the way it drums down on the roof at night, lulling me to sleep; the way each individual drop shatters on the pavement and sprays smaller droplets in every direction; the way it hinders my vision as it slides down the car window.

Today the rain is falling as I have seen it fall so many times in my life, but here in the wilderness of Maine it seems as though this is the first time I have seen rain. This trail, cut only a couple years ago, seems like a child compared to the surrounding forest which has been a haven of life for centuries. I was instructed to dig a drainage ditch off of this boulder-covered path only ten minutes ago and have swung my pick mattock at the tightly packed ground only a few times. The rain drizzles down, slowly widening the puddle on the trail. I slip on my dark green raincoat and notice that I blend in with the surrounding trees. The drizzle turns into a shower. Water runs through the soil, making it five times easier to loosen up, but ten times heavier and harder to lift out. I hack away at roots and rip out bushes and saplings which encumber the path of my ditch. The water is relentless. It pours down in buckets now and my raincoat is useless. Every time I lift my hands to swing my pick mattock, it seems as though somebody has put a hose into my sleeve and turned the valve all the way to the left. Every time I look up to the skies to see how much longer this will last, a bucket of water splashes across my face temporarily blinding me and giving my glasses an overly thorough cleaning.

This job is unforgiving. Water flows inexorably over the sides, ruining my carefully planned out route which weaves between the trees to dissipate and slide down the mossy hillside. Water swells over the edges like an overflowing bathtub, creating muddy pools of water around me four yards in diameter and six inches deep. At this point, the water no longer bothers me. I stomp my soggy foot into the puddle, splashing muddy water up onto my heavy cotton work pants and flowing into the top of my boot.

Five minutes later, I try using a blunt blade to chip away at a five-inch-thick root when suddenly, a low rumble sweeps across the sky. I listen closely and hear two high-pitched “foo”s in immediate succession. I can swear that the signal came from my right except that would be impossible since there is nobody there. This signal meant for us to come to our crew leaders immediately. I quickly strut back to our meeting point. They quickly explain the situation. Out here in the woods in the middle of a thunderstorm with the van parked a mile away, there is nothing to do but to hide in the woods. It is safest to squat to get as low as possible with little contact with the ground, and to crouch in the woods but apart from any tree trunks. And just in case one of us happens to get struck by lightning, we all spread out so that only one of us gets hit.

I crouch down between two moss-covered boulders with a fern scratching my face and a tree stump gently nudging me in the back. My legs begin to ache. Constant drops of water plummet from the trees above, always falling down in the same places yet at completely different intervals. The beads pat against my raincoat like five drummers playing separate rhythms. Could it possibly get any worse? Nature’s answer: of course. Something then hits my back: something bigger than a raindrop and much harder. I hear a laugh from my right and look over only to see one of my crewmates grinning. “There’s no way this is happening right now,” he bursts out. The white hail pellets patter down all around me like little pebbles.

Sitting there with my thighs burning and the rest of me freezing, I realize that I am not the first person here to be in this situation. There have been others before me who have crouched down in the woods, afraid of the thunder and of what might happen next. For millions of years, humans have wandered through forests in situations just as bad, if not worse, as the one I am in now. And I pity all those who haven’t experienced it. I am surrounded by wilderness: the rotten tree trunks, a sweet sappy aroma floating across the air, and rocks untouched by humans in an unimaginably long time. I feel myself maturing, placing myself among the people who first saw this country and knowing that I am truly in the wild. I now know the extent to which I love rain. I love the way it patters against my coat and then remains a perfect droplet as it slides down and falls to the ground; the way it drips down my face and down my body all the way into my shoes; the way it creates a screen before me making it impossible to distinguish the trail from the wild.

© 2018 Philip Satterthwaite