I had a dream I was standing on a dusty, windswept plain, looking out towards a distant line of mountains that rose sharply up out of the gray and lifeless terrain. Even from this great distance, I could tell that the mountains bloomed with verdant growth. Lush alpine forests clung to the steep hills as they rose from the flat lowlands. I strained my eyes and was able to make out thin silvery lines of waterfalls cascading down from snow-capped peaks. Beyond the nearest mountain range, I thought I could distinguish farther, higher peaks behind those, disappearing into the horizon’s blue haze.
Though the mountains were miles and miles away, I thought I could detect a crisp, cool breeze sweeping down the slopes and across the plain toward me, carrying the faint scent of pine forests and lilac meadows. Something deep in my chest rose up and caught in my throat, as if my heart were trying to leap out and catch hold of the wind and ride it back up the hills into the alpine heights. I suddenly longed to be there, to feel the crystal clear mountain streams, to hike the ridges up to the tree line, to see what was on the other side of the nearest range.
With some difficulty, I pulled my eyes away from the distant mountains and looked more closely at the terrain around me. What had, at first glance, seemed flat and lifeless actually turned out to be far more complicated than that. All around my feet and as far as I could see were thick brambles, knotted tightly together. They grew so closely together that they appeared, at first glance, to be a solid mass. I realized with surprise that I was actually standing on the branches, which were sturdy enough to support my weight without moving as I shifted my weight from one foot to another. Protruding from the branches were tiny thorns, so small that I hadn’t initially noticed them, but which looked wickedly sharp to the touch.
On closer examination, I saw that the brambles layered thickly on top of one another, growing deep downward. I wasn’t standing on the ground at all, but rather on top of a massive tangle of woody thorn branches. I looked around and realized that this bramble patch extended as far as I could see, all the way to the mountains in one direction and to the flat horizon in the other.
I tried to kneel down for a closer look and immediately jumped back up with a small cry of pain, sporting ripped jeans. Those thorns were indeed wickedly sharp. More carefully this time, I squatted down so I could examine this tangled brush I was standing on. Yes, it was indeed some sort of bramble thicket, dense and sturdy and expansive, but definitely not solid. I could– with some difficulty, owing to the thorns– fit one or two fingers in between the thicker branches, and could see several feet down into the underbrush in some places. The entire growth seemed to be utterly lifeless; there was not not one leaf or bud to be seen.
The breeze that had been flowing down from the mountains faltered momentarily, and I suddenly nearly retched. Rising up from somewhere deep within the woody tangle of vines was a rotting smell, a musty, sulfuric stench of death that wrapped around my face like a smothering blanket. I jumped up, coughing violently, eyes watering. For a moment I thought I would suffocate in the oppressive gas rising up from the brambles. Thankfully, within moments the breeze from the mountains returned, pressing the odorous cloud back into the thicket.
This was not a place I wanted to linger. A nebulous sense of dread gripped my heart, and I started to move– gingerly at first, picking my way across the twisted landscape, and then more quickly as my confidence in my footing grew. As I walked, I kept glancing down into the dark undergrowth, shuddering with a nameless fear. A few times, the mountain breeze died, and the sulfurous cloud rose up again from the thicket, clawing at my lungs with its invisible hand. I picked up the pace, vaguely sensing that if I could just reach those distant mountains, I would be safe.
For hours I continued like this, making my way across an unchanging and hostile landscape. The mountains loomed like a mirage across the vast expanse, seemingly no closer than when I had started my journey. For a moment, despair rose in my heart. I’ll never make it, I thought. The sun was beginning to sink toward the horizon behind me, and I knew– somehow instinctively– that I must, at all costs, not spend the night out here among the thorns. I shuddered as I imagined being smothered in my sleep by the faceless, fearful cloud that lurked underneath the brush.
But as a finger of panic began to creep into my mind, something caught my eye, a tiny and seemingly insignificant detail which stood out in stark contrast to the unchanging landscape. I moved closer and saw that it was a small, vividly green tendril growing out from among the gray and brown vines around it. From its tip unfurled a tender, spring-green leaf and a single tiny flower.
Maybe it was just because of the monotonous, endless scrub I had walked through for hours, but I thought this single green shoot was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I reached out my hand and gently touched the flower, and felt a surprising warmth course through my body. I leaned into the flower, and inhaled a powerful aroma of lilac, the same scent that had been carried on the wind from the mountains. I instantly felt revived. I looked up, new hope coursing through my veins, and noticed with some surprise that the mountains seemed decidedly closer. Maybe, just maybe, I could make my way out of this thicket before nightfall.
Read Part 2 here.