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The Nature of Things – O.Henry Magazine

The Nature of Things

The Call

A walk in the rain (a rewilding)

By Ashley Wahl

It isn’t a postcard-pretty day. The sky is gray. The grass is soaked from a night of heavy rains. And yet I am being lured outdoors by a silent, mysterious force.

I zip on my boots, swipe my raincoat and let the gentle tug of this squishy spring morning guide me wherever I am going. 

The Arboretum, it turns out.

Not the wildest of excursions. But here I am, squelching through a soggy field alive with wriggling earthworms and vibrant bursts of buttercup. I turn off my phone and slip on my hood as the rain picks up. 

Something about the dullness of the sky and the darkness of wet mulch and bark makes all that blossoms utterly pop in contrast. Saucer magnolia petals scattered across puddled sidewalks resemble swirls of koi breaching the water’s surface. Songbirds twitter. The air is warm. There isn’t another soul in sight.

As a woodpecker sails past a willow oak whose still-bare branches look like black ink strokes against the hazy sky, I tap into my own wildness, remove my hood, remind myself to be here, now — fully open to the magic of this rainy spring morning. 

Unfortunately, walking in the rain isn’t something I tend to do on purpose. I don’t remember when — middle or high school? — but I learned to avoid rain as if my life depended on it. As if the sky were spewing hot oil. As if wet hair was cause for tribal banishment. And don’t get me started about the wind. (Have you seen what open windows do to curls?)

At some point, where we’re going next becomes more important than where we are right now. There are social constructs to consider. You can’t just show up mud-caked and dripping like some kind of wild animal.

Or can you?

When I was 22 years old, my best friend and I hiked 40 miles through the Smokies on the Appalachian Trail — from Fontana Dam to Newfound Gap.

We spent four days and nights in the deep woods. Our skin gleamed from the endless layers of sweat, sunscreen and bug spray. It wasn’t an easy hike, but the freedom to be just as we were — blissfully soiled and at home in the elements — was restorative. There was nowhere and no one else to be.

Nature guides us closer to the truth of who we are. But it’s up to us to hear the call.

Today, I’m one hundred yards from Wendover Avenue. But the rain is kissing my face. A cherry blossom drifts along the glimmering path like a paper boat.

Tomorrow, more petals will have spilled upon the earthen floor. And weeks from now, the naked trees will flaunt new leaves. The exquisite composition of this moment will never repeat itself. I whisper a simple prayer of thanks. The rain softens to a drizzle.

And then it happens: I cross paths with another human. A man, perhaps twice my age, likewise enjoying this misty spring morning. An effortless, genuine smile animates his face — the kind that starts from the inside — and when our eyes meet, a wordless exchange becomes a sacred bond. An instant knowing. A recognition of truth.

“I see you,” our eyes seem to say.

And we are no longer strangers. We are kindred. If only for this rainy spring moment.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at awahl@ohenrymag.com.

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