A PATH TO CONNECTIONS
Emily Schmitz, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Henley Middle School, has been writing independently since she was eight. She’s super excited to have a chance to contribute to And Beauty for All. When Emily isn’t writing or reading anything she can get her hands on, she likes to swim, practice archery and tennis, or go running around her neighborhood. She also loves horseback riding at her local stables and getting to know the horses there.
Emily lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with her family and her beloved, naughty hound dog, Millie.
Not far from our neighborhood, a road climbs a mountain. It's not much fun to go up on a run, but it flattens out at the top and twists through tall old pines and picks itself up to go over little mountain creeks. There’s a quaint little cottage after the straight bit, and that seems to be the top, but if you’re willing to go all the way up to the cottage and stand just outside its driveway, then you can see that the gravel continues up to a nice gray gate with a NO TRESPASSING sign beside it.
If you ignore the sign because no one ever goes up there anyway and you know the people who own the land up there, and go around the gate with your dog and go up, up, up another hill behind that, you’ll be looking at a little red-dirt trail heading into the mountain woods.
There’s never, ever anyone up there wandering through the woods, ever. No one except me.
The first time I went down that little muddy, red-dirt trail, a week or so ago, I didn’t go very far. After fifty feet or so it split into two paths that led deeper into the woods, and I didn’t want to get lost. So I just went and looked around for a little while, into the picturesque woods and up the two trails, wondering where they went. It’s usually very quiet up in the woods, and I just stood still and listened to the wind rustling through the trees and the soft footsteps of the wildlife. The woods managed to radiate peace and liveliness at the same time, and it drew me. Made me want to go deeper.
The next chance I got, I went back up to the woods, this time with the courage to plunge into them completely. I explored first down one path, then another, tingling with excitement and wonder. I discovered that one fork split again a ways down, and one side went way, way up into the woods and up a hill to the Top of the World. It was so beautifully, happily but silently, alive. The pine trees are so majestic and powerful, towering stories high, and if you listen to the silence, you can almost hear them speak.
The other fork of the path is even better. It races across the top of the mountain, out, out, out to a clearing. The trees are stark and lightning-stripped, and the only other thing growing is a carpet of yellowish straw that’ll trip you if you aren’t careful.
And then you see the view.
It goes forever and ever, out to the Blue Ridge mountains across the green-and-grey valley, with the setting sun painting the endless sky in pastel beyond them. The whole hill went silent to watch, and so did I, so silent I had to listen hard for my breaths. Even the ever-sniffing and whuffling Millie-the-hound-dog stood still as a statue and looked out at something through the woods that only her eyes could find.
It was the best kind of peace there ever was, or ever will be.
There’s another hilltop like that too, I found. It’s on the same level as the road and you can sprint the distance between them. There are more bushes, more trees defying gravity; no human architecture can hold a candle to it. The view is just as capable of taking your breath away, just as capable of installing in you a churchouse silence.
I stood there again this evening, on the most recent of my adventures into the woods. My legs were freezing in 28-degree weather and the top of me was sweating, having recently been released from my puffy jacket I’d been talked into taking running. The jacket’s waterproof arms were annoyingly loose around my waist, making the most irritating swishing noise whenever I moved. My hair was coming out of its messy ponytail and every bit of me was aching from running up the mountain to get there.
I couldn’t possibly have been more content.
Millie and I stood and watched the sun prepare to exit over the hills. Peace, happiness, lightness washed over me.
Mil and I lowered our eyes from the magnificence of the sunset to the towering, impressive trees. I cocked my head to the side and creased my brow. Were my sunspot-dotty eyes playing tricks on me, or was there a trail over there? I hadn’t thought that there were any trails off this particular plateau, save the short one back to the road behind me.
My hound dog pulled me forward to the perhaps-trail. We started down, down, down, into a brown valley. I looked across the little dip in the mountains to…
A path up the other side?
I gazed up the winding brown trail, up to the top of the mountain across from us. I hesitated for a moment, then decided: Yes! I have to go. We picked up the pace and began climbing the steep hill. I was enjoying the strain in my leg muscles and pushing myself harder purely for the pleasure of doing it, and Millie was gamboling ahead of me and tugging on her leash. Up, up, up we went to the top.
We came out in the midst of several towering, stark lightning-stripped trees and a view of the setting sun. We had made it to the next mountaintop, which was surprisingly familiar because I had also hiked to it, last summer, by way of a different trail.
A grin stretched across my face. It’s all connected. The trails, the trees, the mountains, the path of my adventure - they were all linked in a way that I sensed was leading me to something even bigger.
The evanescing sunlight painted everything silvery and golden, and it was perfectly beautiful.
I’ll remember that moment, on top of the world with just nature’s beauty for company, forever.