I need words.
Without them, I can’t do anything more than beckon you into these woods. I can’t make you smell the pungent scent of pine that penetrates every corner of this forest. I can’t show you the many toads that hopped out of my way when I walked this path in the dark. I can’t show you how the world collapses into a small, portable capsule when you walk a trail in the deep night, holding a tiny light just behind your left leg, stepping slowly, trying not to break an ankle on a root. I can’t show you the noises that erupt from just beyond that tiny capsule of illumination.
Without words, I can’t express that I’m never more grateful for my life than when I hear a loon call at night. I can’t show you what the waters of this lake feel like on bare skin, surrounded by the same inky blackness, dotted only by a few stars. I can’t show you what it feels like to lie gently back on what is supposed to feel like hard earth, but always feels to me like the steady ground that eludes me everywhere else. I can’t show you how my heart starts to thump when I wake to heavy raindrops on the tent fly. I can’t show you the anxiety as I wonder whether this will be the second time I get struck by lightning, or the second time I ride out a tornado, or whether my camera gear will just get wet. A photo can’t tell you how I forced myself to breathe, breathe, breathe, it’s just rain. Without words, I can’t show you the sound of five ducks gliding onto the gray pre-dawn water to announce that it was all over.
And after the rains fall hard during that deep night, I can’t show you how the red salamanders linger on the edge of the path as if hoping I won’t notice them, just before dashing away like little maroon flashes of lightning. I can’t show you how the misty exhalations of the forest hang on the cedars like a wreath, descending on me like a second skin.
Or the sound of this river.
Sometimes an image tells you everything.
But not always.