This post is an assignment for Studio30Plus. Note that it is an extemporaneous attempt to fulfill the requirement of a writing assignment. I am adding to the challenge by giving myself an extra "degree of difficulty" by trying to write it from beginning to end in one go, without revision, and without giving myself time to consider alternate prose. It will come out as the thoughts are born and arrive at my fingertips. Wish me luck!
My left knee aches fiercely as I pick my way down the steep trail toward the creek, 400 feet below me. I can't recall seeing so much fissile shale before on any of the hikes I've done, going back as far as the 1970s. Then again, I have to remind myself that among other things, I've never been on this particular trail, high above the Susquehanna River. Another thought I force myself to accept is that the legs that powered me through endless periods of ice hockey and trail running are almost fifty years old, and the balance and coordination of youth are now memories.
So I focus on the skidding sedimentary floor of rocks below my feet, catching only glimpses of the awe inspiring scenery around me. I look forward to the trail flattening out so I can stare at the endless expanse of water and hills. The sun breaks through the amalgam of broadleaf and evergreens, reminding me through my salty perspiration and burning skin that I am in the midst of a glorious, but hot summer in Pennsylvania.
As I hit the well-worn and mercifully gently sloping dirt path at the base of my descent, I take a moment to drink from my canteen, which I filled at the summit and trailhead three miles back. The water is cold and sweet. Its source is the very river below me. Strong pumps and old pipes carried it to the top of the hills, where it was stored and cleaned and then sent to an ancient water fountain, built just for this purpose. I don't detect any of the chlorination present in my home's tap water. I can drink this water in huge, greedy gulps and savor it in my mouth, swishing it around with my tongue, which also sponges it up. It tastes like "outside" water and picks at some forgotten memory from childhood - perhaps a garden hose on a similar summer day.
As I trek on, I enjoy the smells of the woods: the Elms (ok, maybe not such an enjoyable smell to my nose), the Sycamores (my favorite tree), the dirt, the rocks that have sat here for a hundred million years, and the mossy smell of water from the creek that flows into the wide Susquehanna River. I follow that creek along, toward its source, back upwards again. This time I go slowly, not because of pain or fatigue, but because this is heaven. I don't want to leave these woods, but I can only stay so long, knowing that reality and the responsibility of home and work await me, impatiently.
The last mile of my hike takes me along a wide, grassy trail, with brambles and low bushes on both sides. Something else is there as well. Something I had hoped for with childlike anticipation: the wild raspberry bushes! They are everywhere! Fresh, beautiful, wild raspberries, dotting the greenery with their bright reds, bluish blacks, and not-yet-ripe greens. I pick them, one by one, and put them on my tongue. They are slightly tart, as fruity as anything can be, and refreshingly moist. I don't chew them but, instead, squeeze them between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The tart/sweet juice runs around the sides of my tongue to its underside, where it mixes with my now plentiful saliva and then slides down my throat.
This ritual is repeated over and over and over, as I amble slowly up the trail. Between swallows of fruit, I place select berries in my now empty canteen and in my hat, knowing that in a month this trail will be devoid of these blissful buds. Animals will live on them, the heat will take its toll on them, and future hikers will not be able to relish their savoriness. I will enjoy the homeward bound berries for weeks to come. Each one will remind me of this hike, just as each one reminds me of summer, when I feel so alive, and so grateful for their taste and the memories that they bestow.