Do you ever wonder what the world looked like before anyone was here?
What would the earth look like if there were no buildings, no cars, no sign that it had been touched by any human ever.
Take a look around at exactly where you are right now. Stop reading for a moment, close your eyes, and try to picture it.
I think there would be lots of dry grass where I am. If I were to lay down on the ground, I would slowly sink into the scratchy brush until my back met the hard dirt below.
The air would be cool. There would be lots of oak trees everywhere.
A creek might curve its way through the little valley, slowly moving across the open space. Supposedly there used to be one, but it’s long gone now.
It’s night time. The sky would be so dark, but the stars would be so bright, speckled against the blackness.
I’m not quite sure what it would sound like. I know there would be wind, rustling the brush a little bit. The barn owls, coyotes, and mountain lions would roam through the hills, looking for something to eat.
I’ve never known the world when it was untouched, the way it was supposed to be. But, I think about it all of the time.
In cross county, my coaches always remind us that the sport has as much to do with mental strength as it does physical strength.
With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to come running with me – for the mental part, at least.
Here’s what a few miles look like inside of my head.
Mile 1: Don’t start too fast, just get warmed up. It’s hot today, but not as bad as it usually is. The gravel crunches beneath my shoes. We reach a little bit of downhill.
I hear my coach’s voice: “Let gravity do the work.” Get your breathing back. Drop your arms. Shake it out. The road in front of us curves up a long hill. It’s steep. Slow it down. What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Legs. I can breathe still. My calves tighten the farther up we climb. I count my steps between each exhale. We’re running in 4/4 time. I inhale on the 1st beat, exhale through 2, 3, 4.
Sweat drips down my forehead. I wipe it off with my shirt. Take it easy now. My breathing is steady – that’s good. My left calf hurts more than my right. The opposite of yesterday. This hill is a bitch. Settle in, we’ll be here for a while. It hurts.
Mile 3: Keep your arms down. Breathe. The road settles and is flat for a while. You’re not tired, it just hurts.
Mile 4: What hurts worse, lungs or legs? Both. You’re not tired, you just can’t breathe. There’s a difference. The next two miles are steady uphill. Use your arms! The harder you work the faster you’ll be done.
Mile 5: This hill is a BITCH. My ragged breathing is louder than my shoes on the pavement. Sweat covers my whole body. My arms ache from pumping and the muscles in my legs feel like they’re made of both cement and water at the same time. My mouth is so dry that when I touch my tongue to the roof of my mouth it sticks. Eyes up, on the road. So close. I feel awful. I can’t breathe. The smell of wood chips in the orchard makes me want to puke. Push. Everything hurts.
I jog past the green gate the marking the end of the road, the end of the run. My left foot leaves the pavement and lands on grass and the right follows. Don’t sit down. Breathe. As I walk back and forth beneath the oak trees, my lungs start to settle down. The tension in my legs slowly fades, first easing up in my quads and then from my calves.
My breathing returns to normal. I’m not hurting anymore. I just ran five miles. I feel good.
So, just a thought: when you know that the first semester of senior year is already ultimate hell as it is, don’t try and stuff more work into it by moving the Senior Seminar into the first semester!
I know that there is probably some reason behind it that makes some kind of sense, but I just don’t know it. Just saying, it wasn’t the smartest move.
In these upcoming months, we now not only have to apply to colleges, perfect out SAT and ACT scores, and try and boost our grades as much as possible, but we’re also going to have to try and get our entire senior project done by March. I know that, essentially, it doesn’t make a huge difference time-wise for most people, because, let’s be honest, we’ll most likely all procrastinate anyways. But, I know that there are also some people that have already planned on having an entire school year to finish their projects because that’s simply how much time they need.
I know that I should probably be writing college essays right now instead of ranting about something I can’t change anyways, but this is just one of those things that make me want to bury myself six feet underground. Gotta love being a senior!
Everything’s been a little different since the fire.
The drive back home is darker now. The trees seem angrier, defeated.
Even now, when the breeze picks up it stirs around the ashes that had settled into the dirt, the ashes that first arrived over six months ago.
I can still remember it so vividly. I can still smell the smoke, I can feel the ashes burning my eyes. I remember how hard it was to breathe. The air was thick and the world was sluggish and grey. For awhile I forgot that the sky wasn’t normally orange. The wind was hot. Everything felt dirty.
I can still picture seeing what was left of my uncle’s house for the first time. The home and business that he had spent so long building was reduced to a pile of black dust and scrap metal and crumbling rocks. I wonder how long it took.
My brother found a metal garden sign buried in the rubble. It read one word. Simplify.
How ironic can the world be? The fire had already taken everything from my uncle, so why, at the last second, did it feel the need to cough up a message telling him to simplify?
I was angry for a long time. I was sad. Our little town doesn’t deserve this, I thought.
But slowly, I’m starting to think maybe there are some good things that have come out of this, scattered all around.
The hills were black for a long time. And then it finally rained. So the grass started to grow, and trees that I’d assumed to be dead starting sprouting leaves again.
And now, there are hundreds of wildflowers blooming all over the ground. I’ve never seen some of these flowers before in my fifteen years of living here.
Before the fire the hills were dark green and brown, earthy. During the fire they were red. After, they were black, scorched. But now, they’re speckled with blues, yellows, purples, light greens, and covered with orange California poppies.
The only way that they are able to bloom is because the brush above them was burned away.
Maybe there’s some irony in that too. But I think it’s also very beautiful in a way.
And it’s the little things like these that we have to be thankful for.
I can’t wait for this summer. You know, in the past, people have always told me that junior year is gonna be harder than all the other years. But I had no idea that they were actually right about that!
I’m mentally and now even physically so exhausted that I don’t want to do anything but sleep. But guess what! I can’t!
That’s why I can’t wait for summer. I can actually sleep then. I won’t have anything to do but read, ride horses, go for runs with my dog, probably study for the SAT, go to my summer journalism program, and travel. I’m so excited to travel!
In the US everything seems to be so far apart. If you go on a two hour train ride here, you get to another city in the state. But if I go on a two hour train ride from my hometown, I end up in another country. I can’t wait to go to Paris, to Amsterdam, Berlin, to Greece.
I also really can’t wait to ride my horse again. I am so glad that I get to ride at my school here, I am so thankful for that, but it’s so different from my barn at home. I can go there whenever I want, I can stay there as long as I want, go on trail rides through the fields and forests, and I can actually get lessons. So, obviously, I can’t wait.
Of course I’ll miss all my friends here, as always. I’ll miss the amazing weather in California, and the amazing avocados and oranges, that simply don’t taste the same in Germany. But I can’t even tell you just how excited I am for this summer!
The light filtering into the kitchen was the type of gray-white light that made her glow like a goddess. She was fastidiously picking through a bowl of cereal for the fruit, too focused to really care about the food. He came and placed a hand on her shoulder, stilling her arm, he tiptoed his fingers across her collarbone to her other shoulder and pulled her in, his bicep laying gently across the top of her t-shirt, his hand idly playing with the hem of her sleeve.
It was still chilly outside and he could see a mist drifting by the window, the grass looked like blades of pure emerald. Rich and dark, sharp in comparison to the fogged and blurred weather. He glanced down into the grass under the window, he could just see the tale of a garden snake, he had begun to think of it as his pet this last month, disappearing into the grass. He tapped her twice on the arm.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to find the right words,” she hummed.
As the weather had warmed she had grown colder and colder. The spread of tingling embers that always started in her ribs and shoulders, that radiated out when he was near her, faded into cool pinpricks, like rain or snow. The clock had ticked out the final seconds: tick, mine; tock, mine; tick, mi– and then it was gone, the ticking of the clock was gone. They were no longer tied together, something no longer felt right.
So she found a way to say goodbye.
He knew he shouldn’t. But he did.
He couldn’t help it. He had to look at her one last time, to look back on her like he always had, if only he could have walked the road in time, he could have let the music of what tied them together play as a reminder that she was there, she was real, she was his. But he had to stop — look.
Today she was in white — she never wore white — mourning. She was frozen mid-stride, a raindrop stopped just upon impact with her nose. He reached out and hugged her fiercely, angrily. Wildfire’s searing nails dragged down every nerve in his body. If only he hadn’t looked. If only — he stared at her eyes: cool, unwavering, timeless. He bent down to her —
He was back in the doorway his back to her, turning away. He tried to spin back, feeling like reality had finally slowed to meet him. He turned just in time to watch helplessly as she slipped away, pulled by an unseen force.
It’s strange how people can change without even being aware of it.
Take me, for example.
I used to have so much more to say but now I just have so much more to think.
There was never a conscious decision.
I never told myself, “Today’s the day I’m gonna grow up!”
I think it just happens gradually, it takes lots of time.
I think part of getting older is becoming more self-aware and learning new things about yourself.
I started to notice that things were changing when I discovered that my parents opinions aren’t always the same as mine; when I realized that even though it’s difficult sometimes, I am allowed to think for myself.
I started to see that someone’s bad decision shouldn’t define who they are as a person.
My friends tell me that I’m different than I used to be.
“It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing. It’s just a thing, you know?”
But I believe there is a lot of good that can come from change. I think that being different than I was before means that I’ve learned a lot and that I’ve started to become who I’m supposed to be – who I want to be.