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Finding Wild: By Going Missing

“We’re lost,” Beckie said, clutching the back of my shirt. She trembled like the poplar leaves, now midsummer green, glowing in the slant of the melting sun. I turned. Beckie’s bare limbs were sweaty and dripping blood from slashing against the forest. Behind her, Sara was ash white, her burn from the beach gone except for the red stripe down her nose.

“We’ll be okay,” I said, more confidently then I felt. I was just about to turn thirteen. Every weekend at the cottage we played nearby, making ponds for frogs, paths for bikes, adopting blisters upon bubbles of poison ivy. But we never entered the forest by the haunted house. Why did they follow me? I thought. Another spider web fell victim to the swipe of my hand. It was sticky. I lifted my leg over a fallen spruce, straddling it, then stumbling to the other side. Wasps buzzed and stung. We smelled like swamp. The plan to bush-whack through the swath of wilderness to arrive at the ice-cream store died with the day. Darkness came. We lost our bearings. Quivering together in a braid of arms and branches, we finally collapsed in a space that fit only our bodies and my brash decision.

“I’m thirsty,” Beckie said.

“When will they start looking?” Sara asked. My curfew was ten. After hours of being trapped in the bush, I realized there’d be no sleeping and we wouldn’t be found tonight. Insects devoured exposed skin. We tucked up our legs, becoming turtles in the shells of our shirts. The only sounds were wild: mosquitos, black flies and the yips and howls of distant coyotes.

Staring up, I spotted the first star and made a wish. More stars appeared. Moss, I pondered, was a cushy seat. I broke open a pine cone, exploring further than my eyes allowed me to see. I smiled and felt the mud smeared on my cheeks crack. It made me smile more. I began to sing.

“Lean on me,” I sang. I recently finished Girl Guide camp and knew all the words. Teenage voices trilled in the trees, swinging into the expansiveness of growth. We watched the moon rise, bright and full, floating across the sky. Morning came too fast. “If we keep the sun on our left shoulders, we’ll reach the gravel road to the haunted house,” I said without worry. I already felt found.

Katrina Rosen - Now a Professional Hiking Guide