The chain link fence cut through the grass separating Alan from someone's wooded yard. Over the years the shade from the posts had killed some of the blades to brown dirt. These were the easiest places to climb.
He threw over the backpack first, the one he used to take to school a million years ago, blue, with thick straps he could adjust. It would serve him well in the wood today. He hooked his fingers around the links and placed a foot in the open space between the chains and the post. He shimmied up.
At the top he grabbed the post with both hands and balanced to look up at the low hung branches. Big oak leaves brushed his face. This was the climbing tree he'd always wanted. It seemed smaller now on top of the fence, the pine trees towering above it. He knew further into the yard of trees there would be plenty of space to walk without branches low to the ground, but here they brushed the floor and made for climbing. They were probably planted a less than a hundred years ago; their trunks weren't high enough yet. He knew some of them, but not all, were felled by the owner of this land to build a tool shed. He may not come across a one. The thought settled him a bit. Straight stumps overgrown with moss always made him think about "king of the mountain" games, and he never won those.
Coming back down from his treetop reverie, he hopped over the fence and down onto the ground below. One fluid movement. It reminded him of the deer that roam from yard to yard around here, hopping fences in packs of twelve or thirteen, eating rose bushes and casually blocking the road. Their carcasses always made him shudder. Here there would be no cars, he thought as he started between two trees and to the west.
The tallest trees would be right in the middle, and no one would come there and disturb him. Beads of sweat pooled under his eyes and at the base of his neck, the straps on his backpacks leaving dark sweat marks on his t-shirt. He stopped to rearrange some things in the pack, pulled out a granola bar and a bottle of water. There weren't any streams in this wood; any water source dried up long ago. He sat with his back to a maple, shaded by its branches, and slumped. The bark scratched at his back comfortingly. He felt heavy, so he dozed.
When he woke up, the shadows were shorter and the sun was higher, warming the forest floor. But as he walked a breeze picked up. It winded around trees and rustled branches. He heard squirrels skittering over piles of leaves. The vastness of the wood quieted his footsteps, so he just listened. It was so much silence and so much life. There were no teasing, nagging, angry voices. There was only him, and he wasn't saying a word.
He squinted up as he walked, letting the sun warm his face interspersed with shade from branches and leaves running over it as he walked. The clearings became fewer and further between. His hiking boots, not well worn, took the rocks and branches with ease. He was leaving gouges in the forest floor where none had been before. The oils on his hands would kill saplings. He felt petty. Relief from getting further and further from the noise overwhelmed the feeling. He resolved to be more careful. He rubbed his hands in the dirt and washed them with water. He walked around large roots. He wasn't in any hurry.
People were always in a hurry. That's why he always got in trouble. He was slower, quieter, less vulgar. He wanted the peace, but he was willing to wait for it. The anticipation was enjoyable. It built in him with every step. When he felt the tiredness in his legs he smiled. He rested when he couldn't hold up the pack any longer. He ate more granola and an apple, carefully composting the core and stuffing the plastic back into his pack.
As the sun was sinking and the sky was starting to darken, he found a long shadow pointing to a flat spot between ten trees. The trunks were tall. The branches were high and crisscrossed clumsily into a ceiling. There were no exposed roots and no grass. Just flat-packed earth. The adrenaline seeped out into the space, leaving him with only silence and warmth. He would return in the morning, he knew. For now, though, him and the wood were all there was.
He tacked his pack high on a trunk to thwart night visitors, laid out his tarp and blankets, and collected some kindling. He sat to watch a few caterpillars, glory in some wildflowers, and stare up at the majestic trees. His match caught some pine needles and ignited the kindling. He huddled in and warmed his hands, admiring the rough, dry cracks that had formed on them. There were no lights, but there were stars. He fell asleep counting them and listening to the nightly song of owls and crickets. And silence.