Section 1: "The Box"
She had held the light, wood box in her hands just that morning; traced the wavering Celtic knotwork burned into the lid. It was a small box, rectangular, no more than 7 inches across its long edge. A very small box to capture such a great thing.
She had weeks ago oiled the light colored wood, anointed the inner corners with rose, sprinkled sandalwood powder in the bottom, left one little rock of myrrh inside. The little brass colored catch held all of that in.
This morning, in the warm yellow glow of the candle, she had held it in her hands unopened.
Section 2 "The Path"
The sky was a deep lavender, wearing into grey, promising something more. It was like magic denim that wore out its color but then became something entirely different and new.
The air was crisp, it held sacred morning silence, woven through with birdsong. It was clean cloth embroidered with wakening.
She breathed heavily.
She was still hiking.
The ground beneath her feet was cold and dry; dirt, small rocks, remnants of fall in the forms of decaying leaves and bits of stalk all passed under her heavily treaded boots.
She wondered if her ancestors would have been barefoot, then dismissed that overly romantic notion. Her ancestors wore boots.
Her right hand gripped a stout walking stick, a branch that had been cut from a tree next to her home. She had carved it little, just enough for the comfort of her hand. She wanted the tree to accompany her as it was.
And it did, over many miles.
But today, only over a few.
She was almost there.
She moved forward.
Here it was open, but shaded. Not mountainous, but beyond the foothills. The little valley she was in would not catch the earliest sun. Somewhere beyond, to the east, the plains were already opening to the golden touch of morning, changing.
The shrubs grew thicker.
She approached stands of trees.
Ahead was water.
Section 3: "Memory"
Some memories stick to your consciousness like sap to your fingers.
It was a dark bottle, like a root beer bottle, but her cousin told it wasn’t root beer, just like root beer.
He opened it for her.
He was older, and taller and stronger.
She couldn’t fight him without a head start or the element of surprise.
But she had won his respect that way, not too long ago.
She had waited for him, crouched on the top of the little roof over the cellar stairs, crouched down by the old corrugated metal gutter pipe, crouched storing all her childish energy like a spring.
When he had strolled past, nonchalant, humming, at ease, she had sprung. It was a significant gap between roof and sidewalk, but the height of the half-structure had made up for her lack. Her coil had made up for the distance. Her distain for the difference between them had informed her aim.
She had knocked him clean off his feet and into the summer grass. She buried her pointy knees into the flesh of his shoulder blades and boxed his ears, hard. Then she had jumped up, triumphant, arms akimbo and had pronounced “Hah!”
To be honest she thought that he would really whale on her then. The “hah,” that childhood declaration of superior force, was mostly a front. Behind her defiant and flashing green eyes, she was squirming.
But her cousin had rolled over and sat up and eyed her with an entirely new expression. Something indefinable had changed between them and would never be the same.
He began sharing his secrets, bits of knowledge that no one else seemed to offer her.
He told her about rocks, and trees and presidents in a way that she never got in school.
This summer he had come back from a long trip on the east coast and he had brought her this: birch beer.
“They have it all the time back there, it’s different.”
She sniffed it.
It smelled a little like root beer, and it didn’t smell bad or like a trick or anything.
She put her lips to the bottle cautiously and took a sip.
And there it was; a memory that would never leave her, a taste so elusive to her she would always look for it again.
It was very different from root beer.
It was light, yet it coated her mouth entirely. It was sweet, but with a tiny edge that confounded her.
She took a mouthful, with wide eyes.
He laughed at her. “It’s just soda, silly.”
She pestered him with questions, how did they make this from a tree. He didn’t know. He only knew that if you cut a slender branch of this tree and peeled back the bark and stuck it in your mouth, it tasted just like that soda.
She stood amazed. Somewhere there was a tree that tasted like soda. The world was amazing.