The Hiker

A change of pace at Nature in Chicagoland. This poem is the partly true story of a Chicago women who disappeared into one of our beautiful forest preserves. I wrote this sad poem to imagine her time alone in the woods.  

I. Spring

She was a hiker,
a marker of maps,
an eyer of rivers to cross,
eskers to climb and conquer.

She parted tall grass
with practiced strides,
legs rippling with muscle.

She often packed granola,
a flask of water,
books and plastic baggies
for rocks,
animal skulls,
and the rare arrowhead.

As the seasons gave way,
sneakers shifted to boots,
windbreaker to down-vest,
scarf and hat.

In happier times she glimpsed her mood
reflected in the bright spring
blooms of the forest,
wind whistling in the trees,
scampers of deer,
their tails flitting in flight.

Dark days, she hid
her troubles beneath rocks,
whispered
her sadness to the wind.

She knew maple from oak,
poplar from ash.
Loved to wade the shallows
that seethed with frogs,
minnows, and waterbeetles,
loved the ravines which dove
swiftly as if fleeing the sun.
Knew the rise of indian burial mounds,
their bead- and shell-covered skeletons
facing the sky.

She knew this land was special,
unchurned by plow,
free of concrete and electric lines;
Land—
5,000 acres of forest preserve—
hemmed
and hugged by a wide river,
a major thoroughfare,
narrow country lanes.

IMG_0637_edited

II. Lost

She was thought “lost”
by friends and family
who peered into her empty car
in the forest preserve lot
as if gazing through a microscope
at protozoa or flagella.

They nailed her image to fences,
taped it to truck-stop doors.
Walked the woods,
calling her name until hoarse and raspy,
slashed by thorns
slipping in the soupy mud.

Back only weeks from Portland,
she pondered why she’d fled Chicago
the Christmas before,
remembered decorating her lover’s tree
before she left,
trembling as she crowned
it with a wobbly star,
then stepping from the ladder
and kicking the tree to the floor.

Her lover taught her the progress of bruises,
their glacial pace from purple
to burgundy red
to yellow to “you
have such perfect skin.”

IMG_0635

III. A List of Maybes

Since wind and rain
erase footprints,
crushed plants resurrect
with time,
no journal pages were found,
she

may have walked for hours,
for days,
chewing wild berries,
sipping from streams and springs,
stone at the sound
of rider and steed.

It rained every day she was in the woods,
first a gentle mist,
then a relentless fury.

Rain and drizzle,
cold wet rain,
cold sideways rain,
steady, then torrential,
then dying,
drizzle drip drying,
drizzle and torrent again.

Late afternoon.
The rain gradually ceased,
and the sun appeared from behind the clouds,
a fuzzy yellow dot in the ashen sky

IMG_0624

Sunset.
She built a shelter
from fallen branches,
piled grass and mud
on its sides,
and laid on damp leaves
and watched the nearby hills
swallow the sun.

Dusk brought crickets,
cracked snapped twigs,
raccoons hissing and howling.
Shadows gave the woods a new face.
She had no fear.
She had no fear.
She had no fear.
Dawn. Dusk.

Dawn
Rain
She’d never been so wet,
dripping drying and drenched
again, her clothing a porous second skin.
She felt thick as an oak.
Felt like a part of the land and forest
and classified herself its newest species;
phylum genius species
phylum genius species
phylum genius species
and thought of better times.
Of sunny-day hikes and music and old friends.
Clammy-cold, she walked.

IMG_0654_edited

IV. Thunder and Her Angels

Dark clouds roamed the sky
like stampeding bison.
Thunder
Storms
Trees bent in the wind.

IMGP0443_edited

She waited the latest storm near a creek
and stared at fish
hiding in the folds of rotting leaves
and thought of her own
fish in Portland,
angelfish,
who she thought were her only friends.
Four marbled,
one pale white
who sometimes annoyed her in the day
with their relentless hunger,
but came alive at night
after the lights were doused
except that of the water heater
which flickered like warning,
flickered and flickered
until it caught and glowed
a pumpkin orange.

The fish became specters,
ghostly
triangles in the night,
swimming as if they would never
stop to consider the glass,
sliding into the air
to hover at her feet.
They reminded her of riderless horses
in the ember-bright glow.

She watched her fish for hours,
then nights,
then days,
anticipating the fall of the sun,
and became outraged at the first
glimmers on the horizon each dawn.

She became too lethargic to button
buttons, to skim a comb
through tangled hair,
to walk out the door each
morning to work.

After she was fired from her job,
she ignored the mail,
the phone, even the doorbell,
and marked each dusk
with a faint slash
on a wall calendar,
until her marker scratched dry,

She stared at her angels
evening after evening
and began to fancy herself their god,
able to summon down darkness,
with the flick of a switch,
hunger according to her whims,
yet she always fed them,
so much that the water grew cloudy
with spinning red-green flakes.

In time, she began to see her angels
as flawed and ungrateful—
they never answered her questions—
they didn’t understand her needs.
They attacked one another.
She grew sick of watching them puff
their bodies like beach musclemen,
feinting and feinting
before each strike,
pecking and poking one another
till fins and veils were shredded.
Each day brought a new bully.

She grew indifferent.
The angels tapped the glass in fury,
eventually turning pale and slipping
softly to the bottom of the tank.

Looking to the stars
to the heavens,
she began to feel that her own God
felt the same as her
bringing darkness and hunger
because he could, too.

God,
always with a capital
G in her head,
though God had become
as inanimate as the gold cross
around her neck;
her faith in a higher order
tiny
enough to be wedged
in the folds of a scapular.

IMG_0660_edited

IV. Her Last Day in the woods

The sun cast a faint glow
on bare tree limbs
hawks circled the trees relentlessly,
ice stilled the creeks.
She heard faint church bells.

The day she was found she jotted
a farewell note
as if writing a frantic
shopping list,
a note on a slip of fine parchment paper
torn from an engraved, blank book
given on a birthday past,
for her first novel,
her friends urged,
her friends urged,
her friends urged.
Her first novel.

She crushed the note
into a tiny ball,
popped
it into her mouth,
swallowed it,
and resumed walking.
She heard someone singing in the distance.
She walked toward the song. 

Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes

5 thoughts on “The Hiker

  1. Andy, this is definitely a turn from what I associate with your writing, but very compelling none the less. You evoke many emotions in this verbal painting starting at the beginning by letting the reader know that this not going to end sweetly. The imagery is haunting. Thank you.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words, Melissa. Unfortunately, she did not. I based the poem on her, but also on several people I knew (in terms of some of the background), as well as stories of those who seek solitude during tough times, and my imagination.

      Like

      1. I think you really captured what a woman would be feeling. It was beautifully written and photographed. I’m sorry to hear she didn’t come back out. I remember one time I wasn’t allowed onto my site to monitor butterflies because they’d found a suicide in the woods.

        Liked by 1 person

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