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The consensus - among everybody, at every re-ration hotspot, small town with an eclectic mixture of high and low-end goods stores (because there’s only a certain kind of person who has three hours to spare and a need to purchase both a brand-new set of mountaineering boots and several pounds of cheap bulk rice and beans), and oil-slathered roadside cafeteria - is that the things don’t exist. An apophenia, they are written off as, just another instance of pareidolia. Our young, urban hiking aficionados and unprepared spring-breakers both show up here with their heads still full of the city, because you can’t just dump that sort of thing out with your milk to keep it from going bad while you are out on your hike.

So they arrive at the rest stops and couch it in vagaries, in wasn’t it funny how it almost looked sort of like and and that really weird dream I remember while they slurp on milkshakes and soda and prepackaged salads. And everybody goes home, and looks at their pictures, and forgets:

The ravine cut by the moving water, cool and green and fringed with maidenhairs hanging from the sheer, dampened rock faces. The place where the small use-trail wound down to the creek’s edge, and a minute bar of many-coloured gravel nestled into the curve of flat bedrock, slick with spray and the footprints of all those that had come before: a dais, upon which one could stand and gaze upriver between the drooping hemlock-branches to see the rock looming up where the waters curved out of sight. Tall it stood, nigh on five times the height of a man, carven smooth-sided by the flow of the river and round-headed by the falling of the rain. In crevices lay pools where bromeliads flourished, and mosses draped it like garlands, and alveoli-pocked lichens floated above the spray in peridot-green.

And if, at a certain time of day, one was to kneel, and fill up one’s water bottle, and in the midst of a gulp of that ice-cold mineral-taste glance back in this direction, they would see how the sun sank behind the hill and how its final ray kindled every drop - on every lobe, on every leaf, in every crack - as incandescent as the newest lightbulb. And the skyscrapers of their minds would slide out along the path drawn between their eyes and the rock upon which they gazed, and superimpose themselves upon the image. And one would recognize the rock for the arcology that it was - they would see how within dimples small salamanders and waterbugs had made their homes, and they would think of their own wide windowsill, hanging over the highway exit and occasionally occupied by curled knees and some fresh book.

And then they would turn their gaze upwards, tracking the golden line of light as it crept up over ridge and trunk, and they would see how the owl-holes faced the south just like the glass facades of offices, and how layer on layer on layer the first grew, more pressure on less land straining up towards the source of its energy, clustering around the water used for transport. And as the foxfires began to glimmer in the corners of fallen logs, they would see the food-stalls of slime mould, the towers of cedar, the Usnea power lines - and there, with their plastic boots and their steel stoves they would realize that there was no getting back to nature. That the line drawn between artifice and wilderness is entirely false, only an imagination, only the way the light lay upon the fallen leaves.

They will realize that chimpanzees build nests, and man builds edifice, and these two things are but one drive. That the road is the burrow and the culvert is the trail, that tree roots call hyphae towards them with chemicals that sing as much as the bird-twitter call of the crossing-guard.

That we live where we live. That we are what we are. That as the trail breaks through barbed wire fences, nothing is truly unnatural - the same past, and future, and potential dripping ice-cold, mineral-filled, moss-filtered through everything.

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