Close call

The packs were starting to cut into our shoulders.
During a deepening three quarters of a hour,
Ever since we saw the last marker,
The team leaders had been silent.
Even the calls of owls turned scarce.
The ground, which had been ratcheting downwards, started to climb once more,
And we all realized, as our field of vision narrowed and narrowed, that we would not reach the head.

Fifteen trees ahead we could see ahead of us, then ten, five,
And soon we could make out nothing more than the person next to us in line.
Thanks to the misty glow of commerce from a far-off city
We found a paved road going who knows where.
It was easy to keep the edge under our boots,
But it took us around the mountain into murk and isolation.

Our leaders gathered us.
We would need to stop for the night.
Some hikers whistled softly and someone near the back let out a sob.
Macy joked about bears, and Kevin about madmen loose in the woods.
And although everybody had to chuckle,
Heads jittered as we inquired into the gloaming
And nothing came back but whispers.

As we huddled and bent toward the prospect of cold hours under the trees,
Lasting till dawn with dew dripping over our coats,
Someone mentioned God and many murmured their thanks to each other.
After some humming, an anthem united us for a moment.

But that ended too, crushed by a blackness that left us with just questions.
There was no room in that relentless darkness for society,
Even though we herded for safety and warmth.

We listened for the mysterious message of the forest.
Did we mean anything in such a wild place,
Or could we too could vanish into the mulch?

And we had practically forgotten what life itself was like
When the headlamps shot like a thunderclap down the long road
and we rose as a vehicle came to a stop.

Andy Oram
December 14, 2013

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