Rapt by Nature
Mayla’s naked toes wiggled, opening and closing like tiny baby fists to feel the sandy, rocky shore of the river. She stepped closer to the water, which lapped lazily in ever-changing rhythms, coming and going. Little minnows flicked back and forth underneath the clear surface, unaware of the large person looming over them like a Goddess.
Some threat, Mayla thought, recalling her mother’s dire warnings about the river.
You cannot swim there! her mother had said. There’s all kinds of bacteria in there. You’ll get an ear infection—or worse. Stick to the pool. You have no business in the forest.
And maybe her mother was right. Perhaps Mayla should have stayed at home, her nose deep in her highlighted and scribbled-on book, The Witch’s Way.
That’s how you become a witch, many people had said to her. The author is just so amazing…
So why, then, had the forest called to her? Why the river? This wasn’t in her book. Yet she was drawn to the forest, to the river, with both heart and a deep sense of rebellion. She had kicked her shoes off, yanked the hair tie right off her ponytail, letting her dyed-black hair flow free and untamed upon her shoulders. Feeling a wildness deep in her belly that churned strong like a hurricane, and shimmered gently like stars.
Mayla looked up and around. Trees loomed up all around her, large and green and protective. She could recognize them, but didn’t know their names.
I should know their names.
She wanted to know the forest by name. She wanted to know the forest intimately.
Mayla looked at the shrubbery on the other side of the river. So many trees… so many different plant species… She sighed. She would never be able to know them by name—to know each leaf, each medicinal property, each magical correspondence…
Maybe everyone was right. Maybe she should have stayed at home. Maybe the way to be a witch was to simply read that book by that famous author. If anyone knew how to be a witch, it would be that author. That author would tell her what to do.
She bit her lip. What am I doing here? She was a freshman in college. Young. Inexperienced. She had been calling herself a witch—for how long now? Six months? What did a “witch” of six months have to say—
A rustling in the woods. Mayla spun around, the jagged little rocks of the bank digging into the soles of her feet. The pain registered for only a second before fear sent the blood coursing through her body in a chill. Mayla took a careful step back.
Between the foliage was a bear’s head, large as a soldier’s shield, moving back and forth, making its way to the river. Powerful shoulders broke through, then dinner-plate-sized paws with claws that Mayla could not rip her eyes away from.
Slow, steady, the bear came. A large furry mass that filled her with a morbid curiosity of wanting to feel its power, wanting to feel its soft fur, wanting also to run away.
Slowly, Mayla stepped back into the river. The intense chill of the water hit her skin like a faraway voice that said “I’m here! I’m here!” Her feet were ankle-deep in the water, and her mother’s warning flashed in her mind, crying out the bacteria! Mayla glanced down to see the minnows rushing to her feet, little delicate mouths kissing, kissing, kissing at her toes and ankles.
Mayla’s knees locked when she looked into the bear’s eyes. They were brown, alert, wise… and for a moment they looked like the eyes of her old dog, a German Shepherd named Bilbo. She missed him. She missed him dearly.
The bear raised his nose in the air, its breath a sound like the rush of wind she had felt on her ears the first time she rode a roller coaster. Mayla unfroze. She stepped back as the bear kept pressing forward. She turned around, dove headfirst into the river.
The cold water enveloped her, and soon she was swept by the powerful current, rushing down, kicking, gasping for air when her head bobbed up to the surface.
Mayla, don’t panic.
Was it the water speaking? Mayla remembered her swimming lessons, her training, and kicked, moved her arms. She treaded water as it still pushed her like God’s hand—and a deep sense of calm swept over her.
She could see the tree branches high above, the sun peeking through the leaves like so many stars. She could smell them, and even though she didn’t know their names, they waved at her. She could see the shadows rushing by her body, fishes like people walking on a busy avenue. She could see the sky, the clouds… She could feel her body adjusting to the temperature of that cold water, so perfectly that it was hard to tell where her body ended and the river began.
Somewhere in the distance, a bird called her name.
And like a hand, the river once again pushed her, this time to the other side, to the shore. Mayla’s raspy breath came out with giddiness, her body full of a shivering energy that felt electric. She reached the shallow and walked out of the river. She looked to the distance—she had lost her shoes.
She had lost an old part of herself.
Mayla sat on the riverbank and laughed. It was going to be a long walk back to her car. Enough time to further know the forest, she thought. And as soon as she got home, she was going to throw away that book.
Mayla would learn from the river, from Mother Nature, instead.
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Thank you for reading 🙂