Ivy

you voted for it…so here it is, part one of Ivy…~n~

The woods were a silent mystery that beckoned him. Growing up, he’d been drawn to the green verge at the edge of their manicured lawn. Time and again, he’d come home, alive and recharged after finding tiny waterfalls, fit only for the insects who inhabited those dank and dark places, or quiet bowers covered in ivy, suitable for any Shakespearean maiden, or a curious boy.

The trees welcomed him, he felt. Their arching crowns, their shelter from the hot, turgid summer days; and from the way their limbs were limned with the first tentative snows, to their gold and auburn hues in autumn~in all their seasons, he felt their joy and blessing.

Now as an adult, his job was forests and trees.

He watched for coyote dens, and the return of Eastern Wolves. He saw barred owls, and their  impressive cousins, the snowy owl, who flitted on ghostly, silent wings through the canopy.

He knew the snakes of the ground, the flowers in hidden verges, the rush of spring runoff streams, and the temporary vernal ponds, with their hurry-up swell of amphibian life each spring.

He rarely saw people here. The occasional lost hiker, the furtive hunter, the boy scout troops practicing survival was about it.

His cabin was at the edge of Federal lands, and was built with special permission from the Feds. As a land management ranger, he wasn’t quite  a recluse, though truth be known, not far from it, either.

Tall and lanky, he strode less with purpose and more with respect for the land his footsteps covered. His otter-toned hair  was heavily shot with silver now.

He lived alone and he preferred it that way.

If he got lonely on those long winter nights, he would sit in front of the fireplace and draw.

It was always her face he drew. A nymph of the forest, of his imagination, he had taken to calling her Ivy. He had drawn her hundreds of times. Sometimes clinging to trees, sometimes laying on the rocky soil, and on occasion, frolicking naked in a bubbling pool at the base of cascading water.

And on those still rarer occasions, when he pined for a woman, he would head into town,  find a girl at the local house, and relieve himself upon her.

******************************************

She danced through the sun-dappled forest. Her hair was long, vibrant trailing curls of richest bark-brown. A spattering of freckles decorated her small nose, while a faint pink blush bloomed on her cheeks.  She was barefoot and bare bottomed. What need did she have, after all, for human trappings?

***   ***   ***

He took advantage of the warm days that fell over his designated “off” period. He’d packed his backpack the night before, and after a morning cup of coffee and an English muffin, he headed out. The forecast was for mid-60’s but that was deceptive during these “short-light” days.

He recalled seeing an ivy-filled ravine on one of his mid-summer jaunts. It had been almost choking the entry to the area, and he’d made a mental note to return once the autumnal die-back had happened.

It was a good two-hour trek over rolling terrain. Lifting his backpack to his shoulder, the lanky man rinsed out his cup, leaving it upside down to dry, and headed out into the new day.

The air carried a tang of chill to it. Leaves crunched underfoot, and he half-smiled to himself. His walking on the detritus of the forest would only serve to return this season’s leaves back to soil a bit faster. The peculiar smell of leaf-mold rose with every noisy step. It was sweeter to him than the most expensive of perfumes.

***

She heard the footfalls. It was unusual in this season to have to be wary of a human. Scampering up a willing pine, she peered down. Aahh, it was the tree human. She’d seen him countless times over the seasons. He was as close to fey as any human she had ever observed.

She liked the look and smell of him.

Sturdy like an oak, stately as a pine. Heady scented like the ferns that danced in the grove where her trees lived. He never harmed a forest creature. Foxes would stop and watch him pass without bolting.

Deer, giddy creatures that they were, would dance and dart past him, attempting to entice him away from their sleeping babies, but he would stand and his face would shine, then he would pass on his way.

He interested her, when little about humans did.

She watched him as he traveled deep into her forest, and wondered where he was going. She followed him, watching as he saw a brown bear lumbering off in the distance. Still searching for the last acorns, the bear had no interest in the man, and she wouldn’t let harm befall him, here in her world.

Her green eyes watched with amazement as he made his way unerringly, to her own private glade.

***

The deep cleft of granite upthrust through the floor of the earth. Eons of tree-fall, leaf mould, pine dander, and needles had fallen, softening the top of the fault with inches of soil. Rich moss grew abundantly here. A trickle of water slipped down fractured lines, catching and pooling in small vee’s before falling to a lower ledge.

All along the face, circles of lichen clung, tiny ferns slept, and insects burrowed. Winter had yet to come to these mountains, but as all creatures of the earth knew, it was only a matter o f time.

Yet, in the heart of the glade, a glorious tree thrived. Acorns still clung in clumps to topmost branches. Smaller trees grew where squirrels had, in ages past, buried and forgotten their booty from the big tree.

The air down here was warmer, and he loosened his thermal vest. He was sweaty from the hike, and it was well past time for a snack. He found a flattish rock which seemed to fit his bottom just fine, where he could watch the slow trickle of water down the east-most side of the upthrust. He wondered if there would be a cave nearby, or if there was only this small chasm to show the force of nature…in her more formative years.

The wind blew through the trees capriciously, restlessly. It set the acorns to chattering, and the leaves that remained there to chittering. It was a lovely sort of music.

He took a slice of cheese and an apple from his pack, and his notebook and pencil stub.

Idly he began to draw. Her face peeked out from behind the tree, her left hand holding onto the bark near her chin. Her eyes were laughing, as if she were listening to the music of the trees and finding the joy in it.

***

She looked over his shoulder, though he didn’t hear her, nor see her yet. She was careful to not cast a shadow over him.  But she was so curious to see what he was doing.

He felt something behind him. Years of being woods savvy had taught him to move slowly and carefully. He thought perhaps a fox, so inquisitive, had come to stand near him.

It was impossible to say which of them were more surprised when he turned.