“A detailed imaginary world.” “Thought to originate in childhood.” “The creator of a paracosm has a complex and deeply felt relationship with this subjective universe.”
There is a place where I am alone.
It is an endless forest of conifers, mottled with intermittent flares of auburn, pale gold, and bright but fading green: deciduous trees, their leaves shivering in the cool autumn breeze, standing determinedly against the backdrop of so many pines, their broad, veined leaves aflutter as they make their yearly sacrifice for the coming winter.
The forest stretches on for miles, possibly forever, timelessly devouring every available patch of fertile ground. It is filled with the scaly bark of cedar and fir, juniper and larch, hemlock and spruce; patchy white-grays and pale, milky browns, evening blues and black shadowy fissures. They are heavy-laden with red cones like roses and branches spread in bristling, rich green raindrops. Cypresses scatter tiny, bell-like cones over the needle-strewn ground as they stretch, spindly needles threaded between the other, wider trees. Blue and gray junipers with dry bark, striated and splintering, grasp for the fading sunlight beneath the reaching, sap-dripping red- and green-dappled kauris. Squat, venomous yews with chips of terracotta and chartreuse for bark sit broad and droop-branched, their bright, angry red arils a warning to those who might approach. Above them all, redwoods scrape the sky with their fox-red branches, majestic and unwavering, clothed in emerald needles; they are hundreds of feet of living crimson heartwood, flowing with cool amber sap like syrupy blood.
They sigh and rustle as they bend to the tradewinds above; their branches creak and twigs snap, falling to the ground in a splash of dry, fallen needles and leaves. It’s almost as if the trees whisper to each other, inviting those who might be listening to stay awhile where it is cool and quiet; to lay against the rough, pebbly bark of a protective redwood, or to find shelter under the branching arms of a rare, widespread oak.
The smell of pine and sap is heady, bordering on overwhelming as it permeates the air; it is sweet and sharp enough to taste, bittersweet and sun-warmed. Buttery soft pine nuts lay waiting to be harvested as they hide in cones scattered across the forest floor, soft and smooth, fragile and flowering.
There is one clearing I know of in my forest, and that is where I stay. The pines ring around its twenty-five-step circumference, the redwoods especially standing guard over the sheltered expanse. The grass within the clearing grows unchecked to waist-height and higher, tall enough to hide in when the world overbears. I can see the grass waver in the breeze as I lay in its feathered softness, weighed down by hundreds of seeds, fuzzy and tapering. Like the coat of a wolf, there is shorter, velvety grass beneath the stiff stalks with their seeded heads, warm and cushioning against the cold ground. Tiny silk-petal flowers keep hidden away in the grass, losing their vibrant blue and purple hues with the oncoming fall.
The smell of pine is still present hidden here in the grassy clearing, but even stronger is the aroma of freshly crushed grass and wet, fertile earth. There is no trace of the city here; no tar roadways reeking of skunks and gasoline, no hint of grease or sweat or sickness or stress; the air is clean. Stress and anxiety and sickness seem as though they must be the things of another world in this small, verdant clearing.
The clearing’s grass graduates into thick, cloying ferns, bushes, vines, and saplings as it enters the forest. The ground is littered with fallen trees and their misplaced branches, berries that once stood bright and inviting against their mother bushes, tougher stems of grass and tangling pale vines snaking their way to climb the redwoods themselves. The wickedly sharp-thorned undergrowth is thick enough to act as a warning not to leave— or else a dare to try. Feathery ferns and thorny bushes crackle and whistle in the wind, drawing the fragrance of living, growing, fertile wetness into the clearing, wild and inviting.
Even more subtle is the faint taste of wet stone and petrichor; beneath the whispering breeze, the rushing hiss of a distant river can be heard, breaking over rocks and sucking at its banks, lapping in eddies against sandy earth. I know it must be running, swift, dignified, and purposeful, ever northward. It rushes but it does not roar; it is alive and strong, but not deadly, this late in the summer. The water is smooth, dark and calm, quiet and attentive, exploring the world with its inlets and outlets, pooling in places to be skimmed by long-legged black water bugs. Its scent is wilder even than the undergrowth, with the taste of icy water, ozone, minerals and algae speaking of liberation.
Above all of this, the sky is ever-darkening, the sun setting beyond the snow-capped cerulean mountains. It is filled with noctilucent clouds like shards of ice, and softer, ghostly cirrus clouds diffused on the horizon. There is just enough light to see by, but not enough for it to be bright. Stars are just starting to appear in the deep gray-blue atmosphere, growing brighter as the fiery tones of the sun slip away.
The smell in the air speaks of autumn and night-time, not quite cold or warm, but somewhere in between; the heat of summer is no more, and the wind speaks of change. The smell of lost, decomposing leaves intertwines with that of pine and replicates a taste of spices and pumpkin and fallen apples. Everything feels cool, crisp, and alive; the world feels like fall.
Wintry air blows from the shadowed mountain peaks and the chirping of birds is replaced by the constant thrumming song of crickets. The sound of animals darting through the undergrowth stills as the eerie song of howling wolves reaches the forest. From within my clearing, I can catch glimpses of graceful legs and sleek gray fur, hear the wolves’ panting and growling. The tightly coiled muscles of big cats are barely visible beyond the treeline, pointed ears and long tails twitching. I can imagine the power in the carnivores’ hard, wiry muscles, the soft undercoats beneath their coarse fur, and the unafraid, curious aloofness that comes from knowing they have the sharpest teeth and longest claws. They are power incarnate.
I almost envy the wolves and cats, the river and the redwoods, their freedom. There is more in this world than conifers and autumn twilights and faded stars. Perhaps there are stone ruins and once-loved homes; libraries full of books, imbued with the smell of old papers and leather bindings; places full of familiar tastes and journals and the echoes of human life: people talking and dogs barking and friends laughing. Ancient places, once-loved and long-forgotten, new and old, peaceful yet frightening, bitter and sweet all at once; places of nostalgia and unspoken words and wet ink. I don’t know if these places are attainable.
After all, there is a price for being alone.
Author Notes: This is another thing I wrote as an assignment; the idea was to portray a place with as much detail as possible, hence the excessive descriptions of trees and such. Hopefully it's not too boring; I tried to give it the feeling that I have when I imagine my paracosm.