I have come to a fork in the road. It is dark, unknown, frightening. But adrenaline does not discriminate, does it? It is triggered by fear and excitement equally – and the bodily sensations are identical.
So, this fork releases floods of chemicals into my system. I look at the trees – tall, tightly-packed, apparently impenetrable – and the ghosts of childhood monsters howl and screech all around me. I peer at the uneven surface and am assailed by the fear of falling, of catching an ankle, of being wounded and vulnerable. I hear twitterings and strange animal noises in the thick undergrowth and my hair stands on end at the thought of huge predators waiting to add me to their evening meal. The uncertainty, the lack of maps and signposts, brings on a crisis of terror almost existential in its reach: What if I am lost and can never find my way out? What if I die in there? What if I never see another human face?
And yet, behind the persistence of habitual fear, there is a shining little nugget of pleasure, of anticipation, of life-love and passion and inquisitiveness; of wanting to go on an adventure regardless of danger and uncertainty; of longing to take the risk and leap over the abyss.
Looked at that way, the terrain shifts in a magical way. The trees contain potential: Faces discerned faintly in the bend of branches, mischievous eyes winking at me, the fragrance of sap and leaf and blossom a welcome gentling of my troubled soul. The path entices me with its rugged variety. I see spines of underground roots; I see pebbles in many different shades; I stroke the fronds of deep green moss, and gaze in delight at bluebells and buttercups lining the track. I hear the harsh bark of a fox, and imagine its beautiful russet fur. The scurryings become almost companionable: We, the creatures and I, are sharing this world – and must find a way of living in harmony.
I brighten. Bubbles of childhood joy rise into the air. I can make a den if I want. There is no one to stop me. I can pretend that I am a hunter or a tracker, can move through the wood with velvety cat’s paws, silent and watchful. I can climb trees and swing upside down from their thicker branches. I can whistle and sing and dance and yodel. I can play in forest pools and make faces at myself in the mirror of their surfaces. I can greet any passers-by as if we were innocents in a dirty and cynical world, and see their faces lightening in return.
I can believe that this fork in the road leads somewhere lovely and special and creative, that my first step along it is a choice both healing and energising – and that the forest will sustain and strengthen me along the way: That I have the resources, both inner and outer, to make a better life for myself as I work, and walk, the path.
I am not deluding myself: This fork will, at times, be difficult. There may be danger and discomfort. The ancient monsters of fear have not wholly loosened their grip as yet and may well return for another bite. But there will be sweetness and light, love and companionship, nature and learning along the way too.
It is often tempting to look for the easy way out: The road well-travelled; the track which is smooth underfoot and populated by many other people; the highway which contains the greatest number of human habitations.
A fork is a tough choice. It allows us to confront the unknown, the dangerous; it forces us to let go, to jettison heavy baggage, to reassess what is of value in our lives. It puts us on our mettle – and shows us clearly what element we are made of.
We can, of course, always turn back and retrace our steps, wend our way back to safety and familiarity. But turning back can lead to stasis, to stultification and soreness of spirit. The compromise required may not be worth the winning.
I have come to a fork in the road. It is dark, unknown, frightening. I am afraid. But I will put one foot in front of the other. I will carry on – and I will hold hope in my heart that this difficult road does, indeed, lead to a beautiful destination.