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Sarahmarie Specht-Bird

My flight to London would have been in 10 days. In a parallel, non-COVID-19 universe, I am packing my bags and going on practice hikes with my boyfriend, Alex. We are planning our transit from London to Scotland, where we will hike the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Ben Nevis. Then we are going to visit two of our friends from the Appalachian Trail, drink dark beer in wood-paneled pubs and faff around Edinburgh. Then Alex will fly home, return to work, and trade places with my mom, who will meet me in London. We will visit shops and museums and parks. We will travel to Wales, Ireland, and finally, Spain, to hike part of the Camino de Santiago. She wants to see the 15th century stone churches and monasteries. She wants to walk the Way that I love so much, and I want to walk it with her. 

It’s not this universe, though. In the present universe I’m not flying to London in 10 days or walking the Way. I’m not doing any of the things I tend to build my identity on: walking far, traveling a lot. I like the faraway, the different, that which makes me outside myself. I like it too much. I can’t build myself on movement; a person is more than where they go. 

I’m not going anywhere. I am crocheting end-of-year thank you cacti for my coworkers at St. Henry and making orange blossom scented soy candles. I am rereading all of the Harry Potter books and learning to sew masks. I’m making zines. I am shopping for apartments and applying for online teaching jobs. I am trying to write.

And I’m standing in the woods in my home state, in Kentucky, breath caught in the back of my throat, staring transfixed at the ground. There, underneath a sycamore, in a patch of partly-cloudy sunlight, is the most beautiful thing I think I have ever seen. It isn’t a sweeping panorama of a foreign city, or 2,000 miles of trail stretching in front of me; it isn’t a mountain or a different language or a faraway land. It’s not Spain or Argentina or the West Highland Way. It is a mushroom, the first morel I have ever found. Its beige, brainlike cap leans in a graceful arc across a forest floor of brown leaves. Still. Standing in place. Graceful meditator. 

I kneel down and put my face to it. The smell of mushroom wafts through me. I touch it lightly. The skin is cool and firm, rubbery but solid. It is rooted, certain in its one location. I imagine the mycelia threading through the dirt beneath me, tendrils of interconnectedness linking out of sight. The fungus is there all the time, whether or not there are mushrooms. But this one has let itself be found. It is here, and I am with it.

The earth is quiet. I am not moving, and I am happy.

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