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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Through the fence

Sarah Muir
MSM Class of 2018

(4/2015) Once there was a little boy who lived in a happy suburban community. The people of this community were polite and friendly. They lived in modest houses that all looked the same, except for small differences between having brick and stone detailing. Their lawns were perfectly groomed with shrubs, trees, and flowers. It was a cheerful place; there were always children playing on the playground or people walking their dogs or simply saying, "Good morning!" to each other in passing.

The little boy's name was Thomas; he had lived in this happy little community for the entire ten years of his life. He liked the houses and the lawns, the playground and the nice people with their friendly dogs, but something never sat right with him. The houses were too much alike and the lawns were a little too manicured. It almost seemed to the boy that his surroundings were made of plastic.

There was one thing that he did love dearly, and that was the small woodland that was just over the fence in his backyard. He liked to watch what he considered to be the untamed wilderness from the window in his room. He would imagine that tropical birds and exotic animals that lay beyond the fence, the kind he had only seen in books. Sometimes, when the breeze would blow through the treetops, he would envision that the trees themselves were dancing. He wondered who might live within the woods; he had read stories of candy houses and honest woodsmen, of dwarves, faeries, and gift-giving witches. Part of him knew that what lay beyond the fence was just trees, but it was exciting to think that there was something that was not perfectly trimmed and sheared.

It was the type of summer where the air is so heavy with humidity you can scarcely breathe; everyone searched for some sort of respite from the stifling heat. One morning, on the hottest and most humid day in summer, Thomas was outside trying to play in the roasting air. He was in his backyard leaning against the back fence, trying to stave off the boredom threatening to overtake him and attempting to stay in what little shade entered his yard from the forest.

He soon noticed that one of the slats in the fence was loose and, if shaken back and forth, it created a hole just big enough that he could pass safely to the other side. He was overwhelmed by excitement at this seemingly clandestine opportunity and was far too curious to stop himself from squeezing through the narrow opening. He landed, not so surreptitiously, in the mixture of leaves and earth on the other side with the trees swaying above him. A wave of unbridled delight rose in his chest as he gazed at the sprawling wilderness that lay before him; he took a deep breath and entered the forest, ready for whatever adventures awaited on the inside.

He slowly made his way through the woods, savoring the untamed wildness around him. He walked just until his house was no longer visible through the trees. He paused and looked up at what sky was visible through the summer leaves. It was so dizzying how clean the air was and how tall the trees were. Thomas found himself sprawled on the ground, soaking up the sunlight that had found its way through the canopy. In the shade of the trees, the temperature was cool; the surrounding trees seemed to have filtered the humid air and by some miracle known only to nature, made it breathable again. The forest was quickly becoming more and more like a peaceful oasis from the suburban desert. Taking a deep breath, he stood and continued picking his way through the underbrush.

As he walked, he marveled at how different it was on the other side of the fence, different from the manicured shrubs and loud playgrounds and heat-radiating blacktops. He wondered exactly how far the wood spread and imagined that it went on for miles and miles, maybe even stretching so far as to reach the ocean. He listened to the birds in the trees as he ambled along, creating a temporary path in the undergrowth. As he passed the trees, he would lay his hand on their cool, moist, mossy surfaces and pondered just how long they had been there and what they had seen; he wondered how many housed dryads, nymphs, or faeries, and if at this very moment they were conversing about this strange boy from the other side of the fence.

He continued on, stumbling every now and then. He knew that even though he had been walking for the better part of two hours, he had not gone very far, but that fact did not bother him because he had no destination in mind. He could walk in this place for hours more; he loved it so much and he had just had that thought when he stumbled and fell in what he first assumed to be a clearing. As he stood up, he thought that he had gone in a circle because the view that met his eyes was just like the one he saw before he went through the fence. Houses, all in neat rows with little perfect shrubs and nicely manicured trees. It took Thomas a while to realize that this was another suburban community that bordered his. The scene before him was a shock to the senses, the "perfect" orderly rows, muffled noise, and concrete heat assaulted him after the peace of the forest. It was like being thrusted from lush seaside to a harsh desert in the span of a second. Thomas turned his back on the suburban desert and walked back into the beautiful safety of the forest.

Read other articles by Sarah Muir