It’s been a while since I started hiking. Nature is so beautiful in its quiet, harmonic state of peace. This mountain pass captures that; glowing browns and greens, mist hung low in the crisp morning air. My breath forms with it, visible and brisk. I continue up, a small incline in the trail as I round trees, twigs, and dirt. The sun doesn’t peak, light still shrouded behind towering mountains above me. I continue this for a while, pacing upwards slowly, my movement and thoughts intertwined. After a while, I realize a new sound has pervaded- a whisper of trickling water. Faint- as if it might just be the hush of stiff leaves in the wind- yet audible. What quaint cadence does the tapping bestow me with? My footfalls agree with the drip, stepping in time with guesses of the next droplet. I smile, feeling as if I were a child running to capture the reflections of light.
Soon, the trickle develops into a stream, a babbling brook of tumbling rocks and leaves. Still, it is only just discernable above leaves brushing in the cold air. I must have travelled some length, as the path has grown in incline and shrunk in width. Where is this calm rolling of water? Surely I must be alongside it, or approaching. What pebbles may I find to slip in my pocket to return with? I continue upwards, leaving puffs of hot air blended with thick fog behind.
Deep in my thoughts, I realize each step is punctuated with a crunch. Previously I wrote it away as the fresh leaves underfoot and retreated further into my own mind, however brought suddenly to my attention is the presence of white. A small layer of snow, darkened with upturned dirt in my wake. When had it last snowed? It isn’t snowing now, of course… How far have I trekked? I have solemnly accompanied the brook in its travels, of which has deepened into a river. It rages, savagely beating boulders in quiet. I pull my jacket closer to my body and continue, still leaving footprints in the pure powder.
Increasingly I have been unable to ponder. The beast of a river has awakened, roaring sharply into each thought. It will not cease; it only growls and hisses in challenging ferocity. The crescendo of battering, the treacherous depths assured, the dark alluring whispers carried on wind. Come find me, it teases. I uptake its trial.
At some point, I find a fork in the path. I hesitate. Why am I here? What had led me on this adventure? I feel a rushing inside my heart, flooding upwards with warmth into my mind. The urge to sprint forward, off the marked trail, sparks. Lit, undoubtedly, by unrighteous fear and excitement. I charge onwards, off the trail and between the trees.
I let the pounding water guide me, my footsteps silent. What river could not be frozen at such cold? I couldn’t feel my hands; they were numb and limp. The incline steepened. I knew that I had started this hike with luscious green trees foresting the mountains, yet all I can find are the wooden sentinel branches pointed at the sky that flank my sides. Rocks dark as onyx started to appear, jutting from their cliff face. On them, where they sometimes towered over me, icicles would appear. Crystalline and pointed, these daggers prevent me from changing my direction- funneling me onwards.
I then hear a rustling. No, a crunching of some snow behind me. What animal could survive a temperature such as this? Must they be small, or large, covered in fur? I do not know. I kept going. I did look behind me, however, the footprints I had thought must be following me were not there; not even my own. Where had they gone? Did they have somewhere nicer, someplace warmer to be? I did not know. I about stumbled, tripping over either some hidden rock or my own two feet. I know I had walked so far, and yet the river that pounded in my mind and across the valley still raged. If I fell, would I find it? Was I even approaching the depth, or could I be fleeing from it? Though I had wrapped myself in cotton and wool, the chill had started to set up further on my arms and legs. What happens when the ice reaches my heart? Each step pumps the organ awake, I presume it would stop once I rest. Regardless, I had no interest in pausing my pursuit. When I look up, the sky matches the snow mountain tops.
It seems I do not know much. The origin of the mountains, the rocks, the trees, the snow. Even the wind, I think, as snow starts to fall in the breeze’s arms. It’s peaceful, for a while. Then, my silent marching morphed into struggling against shrieking gusts. Where had the river gone? I could not have lost it; the furious flurry of snow must have blanketed the noise. Had the water evaporated- turned to silky white wind, and now floods the path I trod? Had I unwittingly dove into its raging depths. No, clearly not. This world, while gnawing on red fingertips I am numb to, is white. A gruesome, daunting, pure white. A voice tells me water is not this, however it can’t remember what, in contrast, it is supposed to be.
I see a clearing, up ahead. Only noticeable through the odd absence of trees. The moment I saw it was spectacular. Through white billows of snow, I could see into the valley. What lies in the crevice is a black mass of frothed rage. The river. It had been real, and yet it still taunts me still. I am unbeknownst to understand its language. What does it want from me? Surely, what could a river want?
The wind continued to howl, crazed and frightened. The water rushed my mind, seeping into every crack and throwing all my thoughts into its current. the snow blanketed around me, freezing me to the bone. What was I doing? I was standing there, in a blizzard, in front of a river that could kill me. What am I doing? Everything fell silent. My feet, numb from my walk, tripped over a root as I shuffle for a better view of the river. I fall, off the edge.
The river is cold, but only for an instant.