in the forest

Crash Bang

None of my stories have the crash-bang-wallop so popular these days. My inspiration comes from the forest, where a seeming quiet reigns. People think nothing happens in the forest, but they are wrong.

We have all heard of the butterfly effect. Imagine it is true, that what happens in one part of the world creates events in another. It is autumn. A leaf falls, swaying side to side and then spinning around as a gust of wind catches it and carries it away from the tree on which it grew. Finally, it hits the ground. Microscopic plumes of soil are displaced. Some scatter, some rise and are caught by that same wind. One tiny speck of soil travels on the wind, through the forest, over a stream, across a meadow, until it finally lands in a young woman’s open eye.

We have all heard of the many-worlds theory. Imagine it is true, universe upon universe branching off from the universe we know. If the speck hadn’t hit her eye, the young woman would have carried on, down the path to her grandmother’s house, her red cape flapping in the breeze. She would have seen her grandmother, lying in bed, and been gobbled up by the wolf who hid inside. But the speck did hit her eye, causing it to water, and as she wiped the tear away with the hem of her cape the universe split and, at that moment, her vision cleared. It was not her grandmother who waited in that cabin in the wood. Startled by this sudden revelation, she dropped the basket of apples she was carrying and fled back along the path.

When the apples hit the ground, some of them bruised. Others rolled along the forest floor, through dead leaves and over moss. Some became trapped in the crook of a root, others gently came to a standstill. One bumped against the foot of another woman, an older woman, a woman who had followed a different path into the woods. Startled, she looked down. At that moment, the universe split again. The woman, who had been pondering a delicate personal matter, saw that bright red apple and a poisonous idea took hold.

We could say these two women, one running from violence and one running to, were both changed in the forest. We could also say the forest changed them. And maybe in a different universe, the young one was eaten and the old one forgave herself for being old.

In a different universe, I am in England right now, probably unpacking, definitely drinking coffee and thinking about what my new life will bring. I had a plan, but somewhere, in some part of the world, a butterfly took flight. My plan collapsed; to me it seemed so sudden, so startling.

Somewhere, in some part of the world, something had happened. Events I could not fathom took shape, and one day — for me — everything changed. In this universe, I am still in the forest. Not the dark forest so common in myth, but the real forests and woods that surround my house, through which I walk the dog every morning, in which I raise my face to the limbs above in what is my version of prayer. There is no dust in my eye, and no apples at my feet. I will never know what tiny thing changed my course.

Not everything happens for a reason, but there is a reason for everything happening. The forest has taught me that. There may not be any crash-bang-wallop, but the careful observer will notice the leaf fall, and when things change, seemingly all of a sudden, they will remember how far dust can travel, and how fallen apples roll.