Writing and writing, I hardly noticed the sun crossing the sky on its trek.
The light waning, I raised my eyes to see that the sun had disappeared behind a huge dark cloud. Tapping my pen thoughtfully between my teeth, my gaze followed the sky back to the ridge where I last saw my wildling. I wondered what was next.
Begrudgingly I agreed to try to answer the wildling’s “who are you?” question so I could continue to pursue it, but something very strange started happening as I wrote: I started to see the wildling in my imagination. It would dart in and out of my consciousness in random moments. I could even see it in its environment. By a creek, then in a tree. The images were so vivid—were they real places, or was I just imagining them?
No, I wasn’t imagining those places. They were real. I saw the valley beyond the ridge. I saw the wildling heading farther along the trail…farther and farther. Something in me knew I was seeing the wildling in realtime—somehow, I had a deep connection with it I couldn’t explain yet.
I returned to the page. I’d been furiously listing the giant number of things I wish could be better about the world.
I felt deep satisfaction. I’d filled up the notebook the ranger had given me, and I had begun to feel like I’d soon be able to hunt for my wildling again. I got up and stretched my arms to the sky. Remembering Rosin’s warning, I start to head back toward the trail.
I find the path and begin to follow it. Suddenly, I heard a familiar melody—it was distant but unmistakeable as the song I heard when I fell through the tree. As I followed the curve of the trail, the music started to fade. I walked slowly as the sound gradually disappeared and then was silent again.
Disappointed and more than a little curious, I stopped. I was torn between continuing on the trail in the direction I last saw Rosin and turning around to follow the source of the music. Surely it must have been a recording playing somewhere? I turned around.
The music got louder as I returned to the part of the trail where I first started to hear it. It started to fade again, so I turned around. It became clear that in order to keep following the music, I’d have to leave the trail. I told myself that since I knew the danger of the hole things Rosin saved me from, I’ll just step cautiously and be careful not to fall in.
I gingerly stepped off the trail and into the thick brush, making sure my foot landed on solid ground with every step. I painstakingly made my way toward the recording, letting its rising volume guide my path.
As I stepped cautiously through the brush, I came to a place where green leaves turned to brown, flaking off and falling to the ground as I walked through them. The trees were grey and rotting. Dead. Everything in the place was dead.
Suddenly, the music filled my senses entirely. I raised my foot and lowered it, waiting for the feel of the ground’s impact. Sure enough, a few cautious steps forward and there it was. My foot passed through the ground and I jerked back quickly, desperately putting my weight on my other foot. I felt a moment of panic as I stumbled backward, but I told myself I was okay. I hadn’t been swallowed by it. I breathed deeply as I tried to slow my racing heart.
I approached the spot where my foot went through the earth. I got down on my hands and knees and felt the ground until I didn’t feel it anymore. There. That’s where the hole begins. I lowered my hand in as far as it will go. Even though that part of my hand was badly scraped, I noticed that the pain immediately disappeared where it entered the hole. If it worked that well for my hand, maybe I should lower my aching foot into it.
I scooted myself to the edge and started to slowly dangle my legs in. Man, that felt amazing. Not only did my legs and feet feel completely whole, they actually felt better than whole. As I sat there, I saw trees returning to life, the brown brush turning spring green, and flowers blooming everywhere. And still music. I looked around to find where it was coming from. A speaker or something?
And then the music filled my entire body, and something deep in the earth started to sing.
“Well, that was creepy,” I muttered. I wondered whose strange musical tastes I’d just been subjected to.
“Don’t be afraid,” a voice soothes. I recognized it as the same voice that was just singing.
Startled, I pulled my legs up and started to crawl backwards. I noticed the area withering and dying second by second as I pulled back from the hole.
“Ummm…who are you?” I asked. Maybe leaving the trail wasn’t a great idea after all.
“Don’t you recognize me? I’m the world. I’m the ground beneath your feet, the environment that surrounds you and takes care of you. Come back. Doesn’t your foot hurt? You need to rest.”
Yes, my foot did hurt. In fact, it had started throbbing the moment I pulled it out of the hole. I scooted back toward it and lowered my legs in again. Peace and comfort flooded back in. Much better.
“I’ve created these as places of respite in this treacherous territory. They promote health and wellness for weary travelers. One of my proudest creations.”
I said nothing for a moment, but doubt must have showed on my face.
“Have you heard otherwise?”
“Ummm, yeah. I got the impression these holes are dangerous,” I said. “I was told to stay on the trail or else I’m in danger of, I don’t know, getting swallowed up by them or something.”
The voice chuckled softly. “Oh yes. I’ve heard many a traveler express that same fear. Let me guess…Rosin?”
I said nothing, and the voice continued.
“I see. Rosin’s great. Very helpful in many ways. But she has a bit of a…stubbornness…in the way she sees things. Very old-school. She doesn’t think of these holes as valuable. She thinks they’re distracting. But doesn’t your foot feel better?”
“Uhhh yeah,” I said. “But wait—in the song, you said you wanted to eat me???”
“Oh that. Well, I didn’t mean literally eat you,” said the voice. “It’s more of a metaphor for the symbiotic relationship we can have when we work together. It’s a win-win for both of us! And anyway, ‘feed’ rhymes with ‘need’ really well. That’s all I meant. And you have no idea how hard it is to come up with a rhyme for ‘want’ besides ‘croissant’—you try it sometime.”
“Ohhhhhkay,” I answered, not completely convinced. “Well, it was really nice having this chat. I better get going. I’m feeling so much better; thank you for that.” I started to get up, and the music swelled to a crescendo, audibly pulling my back.
“Wait a minute. What’s the hurry?” the voice asked.
“Well…I need to find my wildling. I’ve been seeing it in my imagination. I know it sounds strange, but I have a feeling I know where it is.”
“Oh!” the voice sounded surprised and suddenly eager. “You can see it? Where do you think it is?”
“It keeps circling back to the valley over the ridge I saw when I first was chasing it. I think I’m going to go back there and see if I can find it again.”
“Good luck with that,” the voice said nonchalantly.
“What? Do you not think that’s a good idea?” I asked.
“Oh no, it’s fine I guess. If you want to let the wildling take control, that is. I mean, that’s what you’ve been doing so far, and it’s worked out for you, right?”
“Well, sure? I mean, I haven’t caught up to it yet. And I hurt my foot pretty badly. I don’t have any supplies or anything…but yeah, I think maybe I’ll find it soon?”
“You want to know something? There’s a reason wildlings have the name they do. They’re wild. If you’re not careful, they will completely take over, leading you in a wild chase to all sorts of crazy places. Wildlings need to be tamed, not chased. If you don’t tame your wildling, you can be sure your wildling will tame you. But don’t take my advice; I’m sure you know what you’re doing.”
“Well…if I did want to tame it, how would I do that?” I asked.
“Bring it to me,” the voice said. “Let me tell you how.”
See the lyrics to The World's Song if you didn't catch them listening to the audio.