hazy shade of.

The night was amiss right from the start.

A heavy fog crept from the fields, crawled through the hollows, stole into the woods. and encircled every tree. Muted by the misty veil, the usually welcome luster of a full moon instead unnerved like the eerie glow of a flashlight from beneath a blanket or the indistinct flicker of a candle crouched behind a curtain.

An autumnal carpet of downed wet, moldering leaves stifled headway, the pliable surface giving way underfoot and luring shoes down toward the slippery rocks and uneven terrain hidden underneath.  Faint wisps of wind lacked the muscle to further hinder progress but prodded denuded tree limbs into scritchy-scratchy whispering in a barely-there primeval dialect that, though indecipherable, conveyed an uninviting sentiment.  Birds, normally talkative, had departed the trees or held their tongues, perched invisible, expectantly silent.

Shadows abounded but evaded identification.

The trail, a favorite, that regularly unfurls itself in the wash of a headlamp beam, pointing the way and urging exploration, seemed simply to cease its existence a few feet further on, engulfed by the flood of fog and swept away.

Fitting on this night that my headlamp click-clicked one final strobed goodbye and conked out to leave me stumbling about in a suddenly unrecognizable landscape.  I was no more alone than on any other solo outing, but the awareness of solitude was significantly more acute.

Bearings were lost. The absence of vision rallied the other senses and the smell of damp, decaying leaves and the otherworldly sounds of nocturnal nature cavorting in the darkness overwhelmed and added to my reeling.  Running was no longer an option as any pace exceeding a timid stagger was futile.

Escaping from my usual place of escape became my sole task and the snail's pace of accomplishing that task amplified anxiety.  Retracing steps and following the trail proved difficult, but abandoning that semi-beaten path for a direct descent of the ridge seemed madcap, irrational, too unsettling to realistically consider.

My nerves frazzled and my confidence shaken, I eventually reached the leveling of the grade that signaled the nearing road that would lead me back to the lot where my car was parked.  Relief washed over me as my feet struck pavement, a surreal and unusual emotion for me to wed with a return to man-made surfaces.

That peculiarity was magnified by the rumbling approach of an 18-wheeler and the deep, inhuman baying of its compression brakes.  Perhaps frightened by the thunderous announcement, the fog dispersed into the ether, as if on cue, and revealed with its departure the familiar beauty of a natural setting that siren-sings to me each waking day.

Conscious of my cowardice, my foolishness, I stood in the moonlight and understood, as I've understood all along, that there is nothing so terrifying in the forest as what lurks in our everyday haunted houses of artifice, poor decisioning, greedy us-versus-them posturing, societal stressors, corrupted (or ill-defined) morals, and political divisiveness that clouds a basic, shared want to live better lives in a place and within a culture that we can embrace and by which we can be embraced.

I find no literal fog so disorienting as the unrelenting march of human "progress", its nothing (NO thing) shall stand in the way agenda, and the all-is-well, wait, all-is-lost seesawing of a mass media hellbent on reporting every last gruesome, obscene, illogical, base, nonsensical, unimportant detail so long as it entertains or distracts long enough to justify the ad spend that funded its broadcasting in the first place.

The howl of the braking tractor trailer drifted into the distance.

My hands reached under the wheel well to retrieve my key and restraint was summoned to save that key from being hurtled into Hammer Creek, every ounce of resolve called upon to keep my feet from fleeing back into the forest, into the darkness, into the light.