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by Samantha Gougher

“I talk to myself and look at the dark trees, blessedly neutral. So much easier than facing people, than having to look happy, invulnerable, clever.”

Sylvia Plath

    Yet again it was June in the woods.

    The sky, painted in blues, whites, and every color between, deposited imprints of light upon the eyelids of all who dared to ogle it. The forest blossomed with bright green leaves, yellow clusters of wildflowers, and warm lively bark, shaking with the movement of birds from branch to branch. The air smelled of running fresh water from the creek, dewy green grass, and clean, unpolluted breeze. The ground seemed to almost sweat during the mild humidity of the day—a single step could not be taken without disrupting the natural calm.

    June sighed and pulled her hair out of her face. It was hot.

    The girl continued to walk alone on the forest path, thinking of nothing in particular besides the beauty of her surroundings and the sweat on her skin. She tried her hardest to imagine the chill of the winter, which just six months ago would have covered this entire area in snow, but the phantom sting of frost refused to touch her bare arms. All June could feel was the warm embrace of the sun, bringing her soul to life like a warm cup of tea.

    She had some idea of where she was headed, but she wasn’t going to stress herself out with a map. As far as June was concerned, any small clearing would do.

    June eventually came across a break in the thick path-lining bushes, seemingly put there by animal footsteps or a previously fallen tree. She winced as the prickly branches and thorns of the indistinguishable overgrown plants pricked her body as she made her way through.

    Eventually, she found herself where she wanted to be. Lost, in the forest, alone.

    June stood quietly in a private, almost dreamlike clearing, lined on all sides with dense bushes and trees. The sounds and the scents of the natural setting were only intensified by June’s deeper location within the park. This, she thought to herself, could finally be it.

    The girl took a deep breath, dropped her backpack in the grass, and sat cross-legged on the forest ground. She did not close her eyes; instead, she looked back and forth from one side of the clearing to another, somehow seeing more than what was before her line of sight.

    One tree in particular almost immediately caught June’s attention. It was a large, tall elm, bursting with bright green leaves and bearing a nearly geometric pattern on its bark. June narrowed her eyes to focus on the towering plant, seeing only glimmers of the life that was contained within.

    Minutes passed, then hours. At some point June reached into her backpack and took a long swig of water.

    All who are well-versed in dendrochronology are aware that the rings lying within a tree’s sturdy bark indicate the amount of years it has lived. Tree-ring dating has been a reliable manner of analyzing atmospheric conditions for a sizable amount of history—in fact, the oldest tree on record is nearly 13,900 years old.

    June was a teenager, though, and therefore was by no means well-versed in dendrochronology. But she did not need advanced knowledge of trees’ inner rings to feel that the tall plants around her had lived long, solid lives—they had seen so much, from violent storms to frolicking woodland animals to hikers’ camps of tents. They had watched the development of the land itself, from open woods to a battleground to a small suburban state park. And yet the trees did not judge. They watched, and they listened, but they never, ever would rashly act. It was almost as though no time passed through their hollow eyes.

    A tree was a being lost in the passage of time—it was the sturdiest home that could resist the most destructive of storms. Time passed, like streaks on an abstract canvas, but the tree remained solid and sharp, only growing in size or width at a nearly indistinguishable pace. It paused time, rendered it irrelevant, and offered no more answers than it would have centuries ago. Inversely, it often implied the fundamental questions that conscious beings had been asking themselves for just as long.

    June took a deep breath as she reached her fifth hour in the clearing. Within the ever-constant forest, time hung suspended in the summer air like molasses.

    Night came and the sky shone with stars. June took another sip of water.

    One week passed. June no longer felt thirst.

    She had seen the first glimmer about a week and a half after she sat down.

    A fox, old and mangy, semi-transparent in appearance, approached June and nuzzled by her side. After a few minutes it began to run around the clearing, as though energized by the presence of someone new, until it found its way back in front of the big elm tree. June blinked and the glimmer disappeared.

    She had wondered if this was going to happen. There had to have been more conscious beings enthralled by the timeless majesty of the forest before her. The fox shared an important connection with June. She wondered who she was going to meet next.

    One month passed and it was July in the forest. A glimmer of a boy, wearing a large sweatshirt and holding a cigarette in his hand, appeared to June. He smoked for a while, offering no affection or even recognition of the girl in the clearing, and then disappeared back into the elm.

    Time became fuzzy to June after one month had passed. She no longer felt certain human urges, such as the need to eat or drink or sleep. She was a constant object, an upstanding marker in time. The only way she could tell that the world still turned was the passing of the seasons themselves.

    When the trees in the clearing began to turn yellow, orange, and red, even more glimmers decided to present themselves to June. A girl in colonial clothing, a bird and its nest of eggs, a silent old couple with hands permanently bound. June wished to join them within the elm, but the notion of time still prickled at her neck; she had to wait.

    The leaves fell off the trees and the snow began to fall. June could feel strong roots growing around her body, wrapping her up in a warm embrace. She was covered in powder but felt nothing of the frost—to her, it still seemed as though it was summer. Or, perhaps not summer, but just… nothing. Everything.

    June began to inch towards the elm without consciously moving. The roots and branches almost seemed to pull her gently towards their source, resembling a mother cradling her child.

    A glimmer appeared to her in the snow, a middle-aged man in an old-fashioned suit. He held an extremely outdated camera and took a fascinated shot of June before he disappeared. For some reason, a number made its way into June’s mind—that man was in the triple digits.

Eventually the snow melted away, and the grass stiffened in green attention towards the sun. Blossoms appeared on the trees’ branches and June enjoyed the glimmers of a rabbit frolicking with a bird. By this time she was sitting directly at the base of the big elm tree, tied up towards it with roots in an eternal embrace. June wished to join the glimmers again, but it wasn’t quite time yet.

The trees blossomed in pinks, yellows, and whites, and the glimmers were almost in reach. The smoking boy often appeared to June in the evening, the fox in the chilly morning. It was almost time.

Green leaves burst from the blossoms and June was almost in sight. The glimmers continued to curiously present themselves, ghosts from years, even centuries, in the past. But the prickle of time continued to tether June to the ground.

Yet again it was June in the woods. And time had finally stopped.

The teenage girl joined the glimmers, now glimmering herself, inside the heart of the big elm tree.

Within the bark of the elm, another ring appeared.


Read all work by Samantha Gougher


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