University of Michigan Biological Station Student Essay

The Journey

I walk past the dark green gate and enter the forest. The dim, green light envelopes me. Before me lies the well-maintained two-track. The smell of the forest floods my nostrils. The air is fresh and clean. I begin to run, my steady breathing synchronized with each step I take, each step emitting its own sound—the crunch of a leaf, the snap of a twig, the lapping of the water down on the shore. A gentle breeze rustles the overstory, causing the leaves to sway to and fro, allowing a faint flicker of sunlight to penetrate to the understory. The vegetation on either side of my path is dense and green, demonstrating the saplings’ success in competing with their parents for nutrients, water, and sunlight. Those that are victorious will grow to massive heights, creating their own green light, their own histories. I am sure these trees have seen many adventurers in their time, many familiar and unfamiliar faces.

I embarked on this late-morning run not knowing what to expect, not knowing where I would go, guided only by the path before me and the air in my lungs. I take no notice of the stitch in my side or of the pain in my knee, only of the beauty of this green paradise. My mind is clear. My senses are acute. I am alive. Each step presents me with new scenery, new sounds. Chipmunks and other small creatures scurry off the path as I grow nearer. Birds fly to the treetops, casting shadows on me. I am liberated and… I stop, heart pounding, sweat rolling off my body. Something moved ahead on the path. Something large. I focus my energy on scouting the area, my ears and eyes alert. A crash in the undergrowth. I look to my right. A doe is staring at me, frozen thirty feet from the path. We stare at each other for what seems like minutes. We are both lost in the gaze of one another. I speak soothingly to her. She acknowledges me with a flick of her ears. I say goodbye and continue on my journey.

I reflect on this, on gazing into those big doe eyes, on how fortunate I am to have had this opportunity. I look to my right and slow my pace to a jog. The water is gently washing onto shore. It looks cool and inviting. The shade created by the overhanging branches makes it more appealing. It is hot today, very hot. My shirt is soaked in sweat, and the humidity is not helping. I deny myself the pleasure of diving in, the relief from the heat, and continue on my journey.

I get into a rhythm again. I am lost in my thoughts, entranced by the green canopy above me. It has taken many minutes, many strides, but the plant community has now changed. The forest floor is highly visible, the undergrowth sparse. This part of the forest is more open, seemingly more inviting. Fallen trees and leaves now rest on the forest floor, decaying, leaching nutrients back into the soil. The soil looks dark and rich, perfect for supporting these skyscrapers of the forest. Their trunks are bare, their canopies full. They tower over me, their roots often jutting out of the ground in the middle of the two-track. I am tempted to venture off the path and explore the forest. I resist the temptation and continue on my journey.

I leap from side to side to avoid rolling my ankles on the roots. I hear something rustling in the undergrowth ahead. I am not nervous this time. Whatever made the sound is small. I slowly jog ahead and stop to investigate. Nothing is on the ground, so I begin to scan the trees. Ten feet up in a tree three feet off the path, I see a medium-sized raccoon. The masked bandit settles on a branch and stares at me. I find myself intrigued by this beast, and it seems to be interested in me. It lurches forward on the branch, balancing precariously on its thin perch. I take a few steps back. It continues to stare, barely blinking. I bid the creature good day and continue on my journey.

My feet pound the path. Left foot. Right foot. The process repeats itself. I continue running for fifteen minutes, reaching the end of my path. I stop. I have come across an intersection. I look left and see the path disappear into the green. To the right, the path enters the lake, gently descending into the water. I walk to the water’s edge and stare into it. My heart rate begins to slow. It is relaxing, the sound of the water. Turning away from the lake, I look back down the path that disappears into the green abyss and decide to save that for another day. I run ahead and turn left down the trail from which I came and continue on my journey.

I embarked on this late-morning run not knowing what to expect, not knowing where I would go, guided only by the path before me and the air in my lungs. I find myself at the dark green gate where I started. I walk past the gate, leaving the shade of the forest, entering the bright sunlight. My heart rate begins to slow, but the sweat continues to pour. The sun’s rays beat down on me. I take one last glance down the green tunnel from which I just emerged and look away. I continue on my journey.