Gerald liked to take his lunch in the forest. It was a short walk from the store, just out the back in fact, and while his father at first begrudged the leave into the wilderness alone, and followed him with his eyes each time as he left, he sensed a kind of stigmatiser’s about-face, which involved his father giving nods at unpredictable times, and lightly, like a little hummingbird bobbing suddenly, breaking the impeccable tension of its flight.
The forest had a quality of stillness that Gerald had forgotten, and which took him time to adjust to—it felt as though the emptiness were teeming with something—himself maybe, like a big parentheses or vacuum that perforce took anything available to fill itself—and at first that something was his thoughts. He felt clouded and also, in the realest physical sense unable to look up somehow; only brief glances to tell himself he was really there. At school once his teacher had said that the forest was like a person, and one must learn the forest like one would learn another person—you have to know what you’re dealing with before entering into a conversation, or a house, for that matter. Gerald felt like he understood that for the first few weeks of taking his breaks in the forest, and recalled times as a kid where he experienced something similar. There was a kind of give and take occurring—and if one wasn’t disciplined, or if one brought one’s world problems into the forest, that same neuroses would echo back in the emptiness.
In his house it bounced around and was absorbed here and there—into the television, into the refrigerator humming, the toaster toasting, the bathtub running, the phone phoning. He was speaking and everything else was speaking back, and it filled the whole space.
Now he looked up at the redwoods and breathed deeply, wiping his face of crumbs and holding out his hands.
“I’m here,” he said, feeling the sun warming his face, his nose which was cold and dewy from the autumn air. Then he pulled back, becoming cognizant of his own presence. He smiled. “I’m here,” he thought, and quietly, gratefully walked back toward the town.