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Forest Follies (or Getting Lost on Staten Island)

20161022_10032520161022_10070020161022_12005720161022_103445Here’s a little thought about getting lost.

WARNING: IT’S SENTIMENTAL, TRITE, BUT TRUE.

Sometimes you have to get lost so you can see things you weren’t looking for.

Two weekends ago, I hiked the Blue Trail that winds through the Staten Island Greenbelt. And most hiking trails in the Northeast are marked by color-coded tags and/or paint marks on trees and stones that the hiker will follow so as not to get lost. But sometimes (as I proved at least three or four times on that very long Saturday) you miss one of the tags and find yourself turned around. Off the trail. Or doubling back on the trail going the way you just came from.

Because it’s the forest. There’s a forest in the middle of Staten Island. Many of the borough’s residents don’t even know it’s there. Or how deep it goes.

And hiking through a forest is a different beast than hiking a mountain.

Because the summit of the mountain can be seen for miles around.

But the heart of the forest is hidden behind so many obstacles.

The heart of a forest can be hypnotizing. The heart of the forest can be gorgeous. The heart of the forest can be disorienting. Because tree after tree starts to look the same. The wind moves the leaves above you like a cymbal. The sky is overcast and the light is diffused.

And sometimes you think you’re heading forward and you’re actually heading backwards.

And there’s nobody there to tell you which way you want to go.

Sometimes you go off the trail. You think you’re still on the trail and then realize you haven’t seen a blue tag or splotch of paint on a tree or rock for ages.

And, shit, you’re lost.

And then your realize a deer is watching you.

A deer inside the five boroughs.

A deer with no natural predators, so a bold and brash deer that comes onto the trail to watch you less than twenty feet away.

And you commune with the divine for a few minutes. Realizing you’re not in Central Park anymore.

And you wonder if you would have had this moment on the trail. If you hadn’t missed the tag, you wouldn’t be here with a deer staring at you. Having a moment you could never have back in Queens.

Sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we don’t get what we want. Sometimes we ask and the world gives us an emphatic “No!” Sometimes we double back and don’t realize it until the sun has gone down and we have no light. Sometimes there’s nobody to tell us where the hell we are. Sometimes we don’t find the little park stand with the trail map until three-quarters of the way.

But then we see a deer. And a deer sees us.

And we had to get lost to have that happen.

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