You look to the sky. It’s white with the clouds that seem to wrap around your world like a blanket. Ah, well. It’s the best you’ll likely get. At least it’s not raining. Besides, it’s been days since you were outside, and your every muscle is twitching to move.
You don’t give half a mind for the notion that the sky could change.
Your new bike is in the garage. Your old bike lies in pieces beside it – the brakes kept failing, so you tried to fix it – and it worked, for a time. Then you recall that one lazy summer evening when the air was still sweet with the careless, lazy scent of the sun and the grass and the crisp bite of the wind had not yet dug into your bare skin, when you had parked your bike in the garage only to turn around to see that you had left a trail of various nuts and bolts in your wake.
When your feet slide onto the pedals and move, you’re flying. A large puddle lies in your path, and you steer deliberately to hit it head-on – and the water sprays both flesh and metal. With the golden countryside and the indigo depths of the Fraser River on your left and right respectively, you can’t help but believe that you’ll ride eternal on this gravel road, shiny and chrome.
And then it starts to rain.
It’s not the small, delicate drops that your elementary school teachers had described as ‘spitting’ (which you thought was rather unpleasant and effectively ruined the image). No, no, no. It pours. The sky splits and sobs almost violently, and its tears drench your hoodie. The wind redoubles its bite and attacks with vehemence, and your hood slips over your eyes.
There’s a path on your left, splitting from the main gravel road. It’s worn and framed by ragged, wild bushes, and it draws you in, preying on your curiosity and tendency for off-roading. It’s irresistible, and you give in, steering your bike towards the muddy path. A thorny branch, dangling loose from its home, sits on the side of the trail like a trap, waiting. Between the hood and the rain in your eyes, you remain blissfully oblivious. You pedal forward – until the branch loops around the pedal, its thorns digging into the vulnerable skin of your ankle. A hiss and a half-aborted curse tumbles from your lips as you stumble to a stop, and despite your efforts, your foot moves forward, driving the thorn deeper into your skin. You carefully detangle your limbs from the bike before slowly prying the embedded thorn out of its place. A drop of blood forms, crimson against your skin.
Peering ahead, you notice that the overgrown, unmanaged path quickly beats down into a perfectly rectangular passage. For a moment you think it’s a boardwalk; then you notice the metal framing against either side of the track and the space between each wooden board and you realize that it’s a train track.
This realization fills you with trepidation and you stand there, lost, in the middle of a train track – where a train could come at any moment and frankly, run you over. You lift the bike off the track. This way, in the rare event that a train comes, you won’t return to a crumpled mess of metal and a long trek home – if there is anything left at all. The thin metal stand sinks into the dirt and the bike balances precariously on the uneven ground, and for a moment you fear that it will come crashing down and you will have to spend hours washing mud out of the gears. You figure that you’ll just continue exploring this place on foot – surely you’ll be prepared in the event of a train to leap off the track and onto the grass. Or better yet, maybe you’ll just stay off the track altogether.
You run down the side of the track, the gravel crunching beneath your shoes as you place your footing deftly between the wooden planks. There’s a curve ahead; you can’t see what is beyond it, and it spurs you on. Another rail emerges from your right, and converges with the one beside you. Up ahead is a bridge, sheltered by the thick foliage of the trees; even further ahead is a golden expanse of farmland. You can imagine what it would look like encased in the warm glow of the fickle spring sun – but now, even when it rains, it appears oddly warm, as if it came out of a child’s storybook.
On your right is a dense alcove of trees. An unmistakable trail leads into it, and you follow, allowing the secluded safety of the forest to draw you in. Your shoes sink into the mud, but you don’t care. You realize that you’re going off-trail of an off-trail, and it delights you, even as your paranoia of returning to see an empty space where your bike once was gnaws in the back of your mind.
Looking up, you notice a thick bundle of sticks forming a sturdy, circular structure, curving ever upwards. It graces the thin branches of the tallest tree, crowning it with its presence. It takes a moment for you to recognize it as a nest – you’ve certainly never seen one from such a close distance. Perched on a nearby branch resides a large bird, its dense body a dark silhouette against the grey sky, its head a startlingly pure white. It’s an eagle, you realize, and you watch with childlike rapture. It spreads its magnificent wings, and with an unparalleled grace, it flaps once and disappears over the treetops.
You’re always told what to feel, what to do, how to react. There’s always music playing at a moment like this, music flowing with extravagant harmonies and majestic chords, carrying that emotion for you, so all you have to do is drift like an empty shell and let that pre-manufactured emotion pump you full of dopamine. There seems to be some sort of routine for every occasion. It’s as if emotions came pre-packaged in little syringes, and when you were comfortably inside while the sky raged on, you would sit down and inject a dose of some sort of chemical with the word chrysalism scrawled on the label into your arm.
But there’s none of that, here. There’s no music. It’s almost silent, save for the soft pitter patter of the rain caressing the trees, the occasional rustle of the bush as some small rodent scampers about, or the soprano call of the birds.
The rain ceases. You can’t feel it, but you hear it falter – it no longer beats relentlessly against the lush green foliage. The sky feels momentarily brighter, and then it splits, revealing a bright cerulean hidden beneath the thick expanse of clouds. The temperamental evening sun paints the trees a tawny amber, setting their silhouettes on fire and casting a golden glow over the forest.
And maybe, just maybe, you don’t need to be told what to feel.
You don’t need the music.