A Forest of Courage
by Charles Grabuski
A boy of thirteen was lost a large stand of trees somewhere in the north woods. He had been walking for what seemed like hours. After lunch he simply took off into the oaks and pines and birches. Of course he had a goal, a destination. He was not a silly child who did thing for no apparent reason like rearranging the furniture in his room or stacking cups at the dinner table. No, he was on a mission when he stepped into those tall trees.
His uncle, who was like the uncles of old, which is to say he was more like a father to the child than anything, told him a story about a great pumpkin patch in the middle of the woods. He called the voluminous gourds Courage Pumpkins and anyone who could break through their rusty iron shells and scoop out the golden flesh would have all the courage anyone would need for a life time or more.
He set out on foot through the woods before the dishes were even washed. He wasn’t a cowardly boy by any means and so the endless expanse of woods did not frighten him. He climbed into trees with his friends and attempt to scale the back wall of the school house at lunch time. And so the story of these pumpkins with all their beauty and glory lured him into the forest like the light at the bottom of a lake. He thought of how his family would be so happy with him when he got back, his growing arms straining with weight of a Courage Pumpkin. He would chop it open and pull out all the golden fibers studded with seeds like jewels. His uncle or mother would make a pie from the flesh and it would be better than any desert Thanksgiving or Christmas could dream of.
But now he was lost and the sun was hidden behind a blanket of silver-gray clouds and he could not tell what time it was. The trees stood around him thick and thin and menacingly tall. Their branches towered above him; huddled together like the wires of a hundred wreaked umbrellas. He though if he just kept walking he would eventually come upon a road or a river that would take him back to the house with an evergreen roof, rough chestnut boards for siding and a garden bursting with late season raspberries.
But nothing changed with the passage of time and his mind wondered to the places these situations tend to lead too. Would he walk on forever until he reached an ocean or a wall of ice at the end of world? Perhaps he would fall through a pile of leaves concealing a hole so deep he would end up in China or Middle Earth or Fairyland. Was this a cursed forest? Was it filled his horrid beasts which turned the trees around so everything looked the same in each direct?
His mind filled with terrors and he began to run. He dogged low growing branches and weaved between bushes with so few leaves thought them dying. His lungs burned with adrenaline and his heart beat between his ears. The forest was silent accept for the trashing of the child. He crushed the gray and brown leaves that covered the rocky, grassy, fern strewed floor. He wished for a bird or a stream or a deer or anything to point him back home.
The sky darkened with twisting clouds like black eels lurking towards some nameless, innocent pray. He stopped running and leaned against a tree with extraordinarily scratchy bark. His chest heaved in exhaustion and anxiety. He knew the woods were dangerous but he would be safe in the end. Every story had told him so. The girl with the red cape never got devoured by any black and terrible wolf. The children burned down the witch’s house. He would get out of this forest alive with a pumpkin clutched to his chest.
It was getting darker by the minute and he feared the night more than anything. Unknown and awful things came out of the woods at night. Horrible beasts with limbs like oak boughs or monsters with sixteen arms would find him and drag him into hell. Lumpy stumps with roots for legs would spring out of death and suck him to their woody stomachs. He would turn into something between boy and tree, trapped forever in the bark, frozen in wood forever.
A crow cried out in the growing darkness and the boy fell to the ground. He was not worthy of a glorious pumpkin. If a gray sky, a simple crow, or the stillness of a late season forest terrified him into running around like a roster who hears thunder than he was certainly not deserved of a pumpkin which would say to other Look what I have done. See my glory. I am worthy.
But then he understood. If he wanted a courage pumpkin, he would have to be brave. He would have to face the sky, black with clouds that threatened death, and say to it I am not afraid. He would have to call the trees friends and not foes. The crows were guilds, not bird sent to steal his soul.
He picked himself up off the dusty floor and began walking once more; again with purpose. He did not run but marched to the beat of his heart, which still trembled slightly. He headed back the direction he assumed was his towards his uncle’s house. If he came across the pumpkin patch that grew such wonderful vegetation all the better. If he could bring one back it would be cause for celebration. If not, then at least he would have a warm house to shelter him from the night and all its demons. He would go out again tomorrow in search of the iron shelled fruit its buttery golden flesh.
Charles Grabuski is a graduate of the Women Studies program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Working towards social and ecological justice, he spends his time working at community sustained agriculture farms throughout Minnesota. To Charles, reading and writing are just as important as farming. He dreams of someday living on a farm with a loving community and llamas. Resent works can be found in the 2012 edition of The Roaring Muse and in BUGS! published by Pill Hill Press. Poems and other writings can be found at his blog http://almost-chosen.blogspot.com
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