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The Beginning of Feeling

by Ally Wallace


When I think of the nights by the lake I remember what it is to feel.

All it takes is a sharp breeze, forcing goosebumps to rise on my skin...

And it all comes flooding back.

Frigid wind painted the pine trees grey as dusk fell over the campsite.

The blow was a Mother Gust, gentle and fierce. She wrapped the forest in her embrace.

Cool, frosty nights were always the first indication of a fading summer. And Mother Gust was a storyteller. The future came easy to her, woven from the threads of her past and present. With twisting grace, she warned the woodland creatures of the coming autumn.

She warned me too.

I felt it through my sweater, harsher than the warmth of the bonfire. I rubbed my hands together, watching as my breath puffed. It was night, and though the flames were beautiful, they made me fearful.

I imagined a great monster rising from the lake, its shadowy outline appearing before me, illuminated only by the crackling sparks.

But all was okay. That was in my mind. For now, we had songs and clapping hands and...s’mores.

The teachers came prepared. They knew that our child stomachs would be made happy with the promise of a sweet treat. This was the best weapon for monsters in the dark. Marshmallow oozed over the side of my graham cracker, all toasted and gooey. I pressed down on the cracker, watching as chocolate gathered and dripped, flowing in thick waves.
I brought it to my mouth and licked, letting the chocolate linger on my tongue. Its familiarity was soothing. But then it was gone.


We sang until grey dusk turned to inky darkness. We walked to our cabins with our flashlights on, fascinated by their powerful beams. We traced the stars with our artificial light and cast its glow high into the treetops, startling snoozing birds and giggling when black squirrels ran into the forest.

With friends, darkness became a place of memory—a swirling cauldron for stories new and old. But later, nestled in our beds, staring at the wooden ceiling rather than each other’s faces... the world went silent.

Silence was cold and hot all at once. My mattress turned into a hard board, my skin itched and tingled, and my mind began to whir, whir, whir.

How was everyone else asleep?

Did they not hear the distant scream of the wind?

I wondered what was out there, hiding in the dark. What creatures might be lurking just beneath the windowsills, watching and waiting for the moment I closed my eyes and gave into the night?

I told myself I wasn’t afraid of the dark. I never had been, at least. But I couldn’t hear the frogs chirping. It was the silence, then. The silence, and that distant, not-so-distant, growing closer wind.

It was a mother’s mourning wail. A low, cold howl. It threatened to scoop me up and tear me away from this place. I had the sudden sensation that nothing would ever be the same. I grew sad, thinking of home; thinking of what I left behind; thinking of what was lost and would never be found.

The door swung open.

I sat up and my sleeping bag twisted around me. I was like a bug in a cocoon, half-formed and scared. The silence returned, but that door stayed open. And though no noise wandered over the threshold, I could feel the cold slither closer and closer.

I couldn’t stay here. I had to face it.

I gathered my flashlight and my jacket, laced my boots over my pajama pants, and shuffled quickly to the door.

Outside, my heart raced. I pushed on. I hugged my jacket tight to my body and followed the path of the wind. She led me deep into the woods, steering me in circles through the trees.

She smiled and danced and sang, twisting into the branches far above, asking me to look up.

So I did.

I found stars, countless and boundless, cosmic freckles on the surface of the universe. But even then, faced with the gleaming unknown, I did not stop.

She began to speak.

At first, it was no more than a whistle. She grazed the top of my head, a soft fwoosh against my hair. Picking up speed, she encircled me, whipping and swishing and fluttering to the ground. From there, she gathered the leaves, letting them scatter then gather then soar into the sky, a miniature tornado of burnt orange and gold.

She appeared before me, nothing and everything—shapes and forms and swirling tendrils of shadow. And then a soft light, like stardust personified, I saw the face of Mother Gust.

“Why do you call for me, child?” she spoke, voice at once divine and terrene.

“I don’t,” I said, naive as I was. “I heard you.”

Mother Gust seemed to smile. “Did you hear me, or did you listen?”

“You were loud.”

Coldness curled over my shoulder, around my neck...

“You heard me because you listened for me. And when you listen, it means you have called.”

“My teacher tells us to follow our hearts. I think she calls it in-sticks.”

“Instincts,” cooed Mother Gust. “Yes, how wonderful. That’s how I know when the seasons change. The spirit always knows.”

“I don’t believe in spirits,” I said, so sure of myself.

“Then why are you so afraid of the dark?”

“I’m not afraid of the dark,” I said.

“But the dark scares you?” Mother Gust sounded curious. I nodded, shuffling where I stood. My fingers were growing cold and stiff.

“Why does it scare you?” her breeze wrapped around me again, this time like an old friend. I stood still for a moment, eyebrows furrowed into my best thinking face.

“I don’t like things I can’t see.”

“But if you can’t see it, how do you know it is there?”

“I feel it,” I said, frowning now. “Like a warning from inside me.”

“Like wind ushering in the fall,” finished Mother Gust. I nodded again, suddenly bashful.

“You have been touched by the wind,” she said as if letting me in on something secret.

“The Earth has chosen you as its keeper, as its bridge...”

“Bridge between what?” I asked.

“A bridge between what we see and what we feel,” Mother Gust seemed to settle into a gentle current, content to blow soft puffs over the grass. “You see, my child, some are made more aware than others. More sensitive.”

“I’m not sensitive,” I said, adamant.

“It’s not always bad,” she sang. “I was made sensitive too...yet I am a warrior and a sage...a harbinger of pattern and change.”

“So, I’ll always...feel this way?” I was hesitant and unsure.

“What way, child?”

I pressed a firm hand to my chest and felt my heart thump. I traced down to my stomach, feeling the way my insides twisted, groaning and chafing as if I were at war with myself. Then, I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered. I felt cold and alone and somehow sad.

Mother Gust wrapped me in a cocoon of air and brought me into the sky.

We flew so high that I wondered if I might touch the stars. We brushed the peaks of the Adirondacks, swirling and twirling by the conifer trees. We soared over the surface of the lake, and I watched in wonder as that pit of murky darkness became clear, and I could see myself in it like a mirror. I smiled a toothy grin and waved at my own reflection.

We settled by the lakeshore, on a beach of rock and sand and twigs.

“The world is beautiful, child,” Mother Gust said. “More beautiful than you will ever know. So beautiful that you will never forget.”

I hummed, watching the moonlight skate over the top of the lake.

“And if you ever feel yourself grow sad, or teary-eyed, or unsure of yourself, remember the beauty. Remember that feeling—good, bad, and everything in between—is sprung from all that is beautiful in this world. Feeling is beauty, and you have been given the gift of it.”

I let Mother Gust cradle me once more, breathing in her sweetness and her love, and then said my goodbyes.

I’m not sure I understood her then—when her cold reminded me of what I feared—but I understand her now.

Her cold reminds me of what I am afraid to lose.

Her beauty reminds me of everything I’m so lucky to love.

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