After reading for nearly three hours earlier this afternoon, I was restless.
The Itch had climbed its way up my throat and now sat on the back of my tongue like a heavy weight, a salty aftertaste, and I needed to go. The Itch didn’t care where–all that mattered was the going.
Initially, I tried to resist. I thought if I just took a break from my reading and let my dog outside to use the bathroom, stepping out after her to breathe in crisp January air, I would force the Itch back down and be able to continue my book without a care. Of course, I was wrong. Stepping outside was the impetus.
The moment I walked out of my back door and saw golden sunlight, my breath frosting the air, I knew I couldn’t sit still any longer. The Itch had me. Hands shaking, mind swimming with the monologues symptomatic of Writer’s Overdrive, I changed, stuffed my book and journal into a bag, and left for an afternoon of directionless wandering.
I felt strong and healthy after months of eating well and exercising. The shadow stretching out before me was leaner, stronger, an imposing silhouette of long legs and muscle swathed in black. I trod across a few frozen puddles, surprised when they held firm beneath my feet, and ignored the chill in my fingers.
I had never believed in gloves, even as a kid. What was the point in climbing a tree if you couldn’t feel its bark beneath your palms, or of throwing up bundles if leaves if you couldn’t grasp at their papery surfaces with calloused fingertips, or of traipsing through brambles if you couldn’t truly sense the closeness of their thorns to your skin? I certainly didn’t see a point. In my mind, gloves were for shopping trips and parties and snowy days, not adventuring.
Besides, I knew my fingers would warm up soon.
As I kept walking, following the road through my neighborhood I knew so well, my gaze inevitably lifted to the sky. On cloudless winter days such as this, it felt so close, like I could reach out and dip my fingers into cool cerulean blue. Without thinking, I raised one hand, fingers outstretched, and felt disappointed when I was met only with cold air.
A bit confused at my own reaction to my thoughts, I decided to focus instead on the forest I was fast approaching.
I’d discovered a new place recently, a sanctuary just across from my neighborhood, hidden in plain sight all my life. First, I had to find my way down a sloping hill of thin trees to a small glade I’d lovingly named the Glade of Respite. Once there, I turned toward the second part of my journey–a large gathering of young pines, so thin and close and many you could barely slip between them. My footsteps were muffled by a carpet of browned pine needles as I crept through their shadowy undergrowth, realizing I could easily sneak up on someone here if I wanted.
Despite the apparent young stages of the pines around me, I had nicknamed this area the Ancient Wood; something about it just felt timelessly old, as if you’d turn and find a dragon’s egg hidden among the underbrush or a robed mage chanting an archaic spell. The wood felt perfect for spying on secret royal meetings or weaving magic beneath a clouded sky. I could imagine Sabriel from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series traipsing through this Ancient Wood, bandolier of bells across her chest as she drew Saraneth and forged Charter marks in her mind.
The appearance of the Ancient Wood’s edge brought me back to reality. My extremities were now adequately warmed by my journey, so I drew closer to the wood’s edge and began searching for the Breach–an area where a log had fallen on an old barbwire fence separating me from my destination, felling it just enough so I could clamber over.
Even though I knew the fence was old, the land beyond it unused save for a couple of cows who’d wandered over from their own pasture, I always hesitated here. But the Itch won, as usual, so I carefully maneuvered my way into the wide swath of farmland beyond, ignoring the cows I could see eyeing me from a little ways off.
My fantasy-addled mind had, for some reason, named the farmland here the Arcadian Fields. I imagined the Kingdom of Arcadia to be a sprawling, walled city to the South of a vee-shaped rise of mountains that now caught my gaze in the distance, entertaining the idea even as I picked my way around frozen cow patties and toward my end goal.
Just to the right of the Arcadian Fields, in a small valley cut through the rolling landscape, lay the Fae Glen. In summer, it was a lush carpet of moss and clover, marked by trees whose large roots twisted into shapes perfect for perching on during a sleepy afternoon. A stream ran through it as well, bubbling happily around stones and dips in the land.
Now, however, only some moss remained, the trees barren and gray with winter, the stream frozen in its tracks. I wished the creek were alive even as I followed its icy path, looking for a good place to rest and release the Itch burning in the back of my throat.
After a few minutes of searching, and startling a small group of cows I hadn’t noticed until they trotted off, I found the perfect place–a tree that had grown sideways out of the hillside, its trunk somehow curved into the perfect shape for me. I scurried up to it, overjoyed.
I sit there now as I write this in my journal, resting in the dip of that warped tree. The Itch has settled after this outpowering of words, allowing me to once again sink into my bookish wanderings. Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is in the bag around my shoulders, ready and waiting. My fingers have grown cold; I no longer care.
Perhaps I will stay here until spring thaws the stream beside me.
Featured above is a picture of my Arcadian Fields.
I took this with the Ancient Wood at my back,
the Fae Glen to my right. Beyond the crest of mountains you see
lies the Kingdom of Arcadia, ancient and beautiful,
full of magic and merry, mages and mystical bells,
and dryads who dance beneath a full moon.