March 8, 2023
At 6:00 p.m., the sun hangs low, painting the skyline with multiple shades of reddish-orange. I have just left Essie’s, but instead of walking back to my dorm as I always do after a meal, I’m staring dumbfounded into the Crum. My feet, the stubborn roots that they are, are refusing to take me home. Yet they tingle when I point them in the direction of the woods. I am annoyed: I cannot understand the value in strolling through Crum Woods when I ought to be making better use of my time. I have post-spring break deadlines to meet and readings to complete, do I not? Yet my boredom, with the monotony of this routine, opens the gates to a geyser of bold desire that bursts out of my throat. “Ahh, what the hell! I’m walking through the Crum tonight!”
Around 6:45 p.m., the Crum and I are bathed in the rays of deep red twilight, the last words of the sun drowning in the far off horizon. Beads of sweat across my body are sizzling from contact with the frosty air, and my feet hurt. Yet I seem to no longer possess any faculty to process this. My brain has dispersed into the whistling winds like powdered sugar, and my aching body will not settle for any pause, save for carefully maneuvering around thick tree roots or frustratingly complex rock formations crowding the trail. The only thing I perceive is the Crum: a rocky landscape of uncompromising slopes, shadows leaping from branch to branch in a frivolous game of tag, and the shrewd gaze of a riverbed that seems to be reaching deep into my soul with every glance I send its way. It’s strange that the Crum feels sentient and thoughtful, like a therapist listening to the swarm of discontented whispers crowding the back of my mind. Where I once was thinking about Google Calendar and distant plans in the blurry horizon, I am now breathing, observing, and listening.
Near 8:00 p.m., I traipse through the Crum, newly accompanied with a flashlight as the crescent moon overhead stoically watches my progress. Darkness emboldens the shadows that now nip at my sleeves as my audible footsteps disturb the serene void of the Crum. Unlike the placid Crum I’ve gotten to know when the sun still spoke in color, this novel Crum, where the moon seems to imprison all life in their own minds, feels quite foreboding indeed. There is nary the sound of swift little paws clashing against the leaf-wearing soil that had accentuated the previously placid Crum with a sense of intrepid vitality. In its stead are the infrequent and arbitrary sounds of the uproarious wind cruelly amusing itself at the expense of others: “CRRAACK!” yelps a piece of tree bark, leaves are screeching their displeasure at being blown around like ragdolls, and splashing water is coerced into colliding with itself in one painful moment.
A couple of minutes later, my flashlight reveals the presence of a curve on the path ahead. I cannot help but shudder whenever I hear one of these sounds. For who cannot help, when walking through the ink-black figures of tree after tree while occasionally losing sight of the ground ahead, recalling harrowing stories of malevolent forces doing harm to lone travelers under nightime’s shroud of anonymity. Shaking my head and slapping my palm on my forehead, I rein in my imagination. After taking a quick flurry of breaths in and out, I speed-walk with a seemingly miraculous burst of energy towards the generous lights of the campus buildings peeking out between the dark canopy above.
Sometime later, my back rests upon the inky surface of Parrish Beach, marveling at the network of glinting stars and the moon above seemingly trading jokes in morse code. The wind is strong, but no longer fierce as it gently rubs my exposed hands here and there. I readjust my body on the smooth blades of grass into a more comfortable position. It is from this point until I rub my eyes out of my stupor that my soul follows the breeze upstairs and plays among the star-lit heavens, no longer mine to possess.
Much later, a pen is hugging a pocket notebook under a faint yellow glow, borrowed from the sensual memory of the sun’s embrace. All else is dark, save for the outline of a figure snoring only a few inches away on the desk. The dim yellow light reveals that one sentence is written slightly darker than the others. “And here ends a tale of the Crum and I, where we met under the sun’s last murmurs, parted under the moon’s shadow, and slept under the vibrant stars.”