By: Kassandra Dick
The waning sun was warm on my skin, and when the wind went still it felt hotter than possible. It was early spring. I walked along the dyke, keeping my head down, listening to an audiobook about magic, evil, and a dragon reborn. Passing by the odd person on the trail, I felt uncertain. All the anxieties of late seemed to swell when faced with strangers, even out here in the open.
Do I speak to them? What’s the risk of spittle getting caught up in the wind only to be inhaled by the unsuspecting person? I didn’t really think I was infected… but still. Eye contact alone was difficult even though surely that was not contagious. Each person had their own concerns underneath those expressionless faces. Each was dealing with their own internal plans and setbacks.
I reached the fork in the trail which would lead me on to the dusty forestry road where the speed limit was 50, but everyone drove 80 anyways. I did not turn back. Still with the dramatic story playing out in my ears, I made my way to the forest. My quest was not unlike the characters in the book, while they sought answers to long-forgotten questions, I sought knowledge of long-forgotten ancestors.
I inched my way through the trees, so slowly, I could see the plants growing before me. I looked on like a hungry wolf—scavenging—you could call it.
It seemed to me that if I could just find something of substance here, I might survive a whole year on the bounty of the forest. Alas, spring had barely begun to nudge the curled fiddleheads out of their cradles. The buds of maple and bramble were hardly more than tiny hands still folded in prayer.
Foraging is the word for it.
This forest was not a garden after all. I wasn’t harvesting, only sightseeing, only prospecting. I only knew the names of a few plants, and I only knew the purpose of a small percentage of those. So, I poked, prodded, and photographed. I sat under a big boulder and read up on what I’d found. My little plant book, like a bible, like a map.
I hardly noticed the nips of mosquito, now thawed out in the millions, zealously swarming my warm body. In my haste to escape the monstrosities, I almost lost my balance on the rocks. A twisted ankle now would earn me Darwin’s award for sure.
What were you up to when you fell? Oh, just looking for food. Food? There’s no food in the forest for you. And besides, supply is not the issue. It’s demand that will drain our coffers now. Do you even know what’s edible and what’s not?
No. I admitted to myself. But that’s what I came here to learn. I’m not going to live my whole life acting as though the most important information is out there somewhere. No. There’s something missing from my personal education. How could I live 28 years without knowing which plants were medicine and which were poison? I refused to walk another step past all this green without investigating.
That’s what quarantine did to me. It made me thirsty for knowledge. There was no chance to distract myself with work or friends, so I set to learning. If I’d been in the Garden of Eden, I would have eaten that fruit too. There was no Edible Plants of Canada back then, you just had to stuff a bit in your mouth and hope that snake was telling the truth.
I was lucky to have a written resource at all. All these green waving fronds were alien to me. At least I knew the trees. I touched the scales of spruce, the mottled skin of maple, smiled up at Hemlock’s drooping Elvis hairdo. It was Cedar I sought.
There they were, lining the path to my house. Little children with their needles like leaves, or was it their leaves like needles? So soft and dainty, I held their hands in mine before pinching their wrists and helping myself to their fragrant limbs. I needed only a ten or so.
Tea. It was the only thing I knew how to make. The only positive identification I could make. I said a prayer of thanks. The next day I would retrieve bags of dog shit in penance for what I took.
Back home, the death counter was up to twelve thousand. My housemates spoke of gardens, of growth. The City issued that dreaded order… still without a plan to enforce it, only the blind hope that all would refrain from closeness, deny that twitch for touch…
I shook my head. There was no longer any reason worth the risk. I had all I needed. A team at home and a community. We’d prepared for this, unknowingly. Through each short moment of relaxation we’d readied our minds for any hypothetical situation. Setting the kettle to boil, I read the latest updates from my crew. We had our meeting place. We had our ten essentials. We had our communications. If the earth should quake or the forest blaze, we’d be ready. We’d steeled ourselves not against the virus, but against the fear. I would not spread it. I would not pick it up and look it over. I would not give an inch of breath to the God of death, Panic.
No. that’s not fair. I had my forest to run to. I had my friends. My heart sprung a leak for every being on the streets of The City, every soul locked up in their skyscraping tower. I sipped my tea. They had a reason to be afraid. I had space to escape, what had they? Only to wait.
The street outside my room made me sigh. It was normally crowded with neighborhood boys, blasting each other away with imaginary projectiles, screaming exuberant obscenities. For their sake, I vowed. For their sake, I’ll stay. Put up with the indecision, the distasteful dithering. Was that word from me? Or something I’d heard… I turned off the audiobook.
All was quiet.
Quiet though it was, this town still had a heartbeat. I could feel it when I closed my eyes.
Ah… How distance makes the lungs breathe free.
By: Kassandra Dick
- Essayist and Ghost Writer | ASAP PapersSeptember 2016 – PresentProviding expert advice and editing for ESL university students. Ghost writing research papers with clients.
- ESL Art instructor | Tamwood International CampsJune 2016 – PresentSeasonal Art instructor for international students ages 7-18, with varying degrees of English. Developed creative lesson plans based on student’s interests and abilities. Included cultural arts and crafts like Hieroglyphs, Dream Catchers, origami and Haida Art, as well as classic skills like pointillism, jewelry making, and collage.
- English Instructor, math instructor, study skills instructor | Beacon Literacy Inc.January 2012 – August 2014I provided individualized instruction for English (not ESL) learning for ages 5-18. Accent reduction classes for adults. Math for grades 1-6 and study skills for High school students, including time management, goal setting, review, and finding resources.