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An unexpected change in perspective prompts a new understanding of the natural world

It feels like everything is more difficult here. I spent an hour picking blackberries for jam and then took a spoonful of it when we made it. I almost ate the entire jar. The fresh air is great, and the grass seems greener here. But it also seems like this place doesn’t exist back home. I love it here, but it’s almost too damp to go outside.

I don’t know why I’m on this trip.

I popped up out of bed and walked down the wooden stairs. They turned, and I hugged the wall with lethargy.

“Good morning,” I groggily blurted out to the noise at the end of the hall.


“What do we have for breakfast?”

“Pancakes. They’ll take a bit.”

He always took a while with the pancakes.

“I’m gonna go pick berries.”

“Still keen on making jam?”

I laughed.

“Don’t go past the trees!”

I opened the door with a hasty “Yup!”

Beach in Autumn

I had only woken up fifteen minutes before, but I decided to go out anyway. I’d barely slept last night because of the incessant banging of droplets that had to have frozen before digging into the shingles of the white cottage.

I slipped on a sweater lazily to see my favorite part of this whole place: the vast fields that feel like an ocean of green that lead down to the lawn where I can sit and have tea and cookies.

I had always liked those fields. I could just walk out the door and take fifteen steps to the hedge that overlooked the hill. I had seen better views online, but this one felt special. I saw flashes of red and white and gray. Sometimes when I’d go farther for a closer look, the cows would pace toward me. I always thought it was funny to see them jaunt over to me and stop at the gate.

I was fascinated with everything I saw, even with the dirt beneath me almost transmuted fully into mucky water. It was always exciting to see the glimmer of cozy velvet, tainted with dark beige and brown.

I yawned and sank into the mud. As soon as I closed my eyes and opened my mouth, I heard a rush of vigorous water, thwacking and squelching as it split into two on the rocks. I opened my eyes, and I felt my cold feet digging into the dirt near some kind of river. I tried looking around, and I felt my throat buckle.

I recoiled and looked down to the silt. I saw two dull-gray paws rooted to the ground, quilled and monotonous, connected to limbs that arched toward the bottom of my vision. I jumped up at the sight of them and rolled down toward the river. I closed my eyes, and for some reason; my body twirled through the air and spread its arms, almost on its own. As my arms spread, the flaps of quilled fur acted as a parachute, and I looked up to the river as I soared. I saw my own reflection: a squirrel. Not the kind I saw back home. This one was black and gray, and its tail flapped in the wind like a sail in a stormy ocean.

For once I was above the dirty sludge that coated the ground from last night’s rain, and I could see, past the vast array of rocks and busy waters, a clearing.

It had almost cabbage-green grass, and the trees parted to reveal white mushrooms and wildflowers that grew without humans. Looking down at them, I noticed they were swaying lightly, like the wind was whispering through them.

I soared back down to the ground and felt the back of my throat pulse as I squeaked. I knew it was a dream, but I couldn’t pinch myself, could I?

My limbs couldn’t move well enough to burst out of their locked position, and my small jaws could barely move. So I dropped down to the muddy, silty ground and popped my miniscule shoulder blades out of place, planted them to the ground, and dragged myself using my neck. I made another high-pitched noise almost unconsciously.

I soared back down to the ground and felt the back of my throat pulse as I squeaked. I knew it was a dream, but I couldn’t pinch myself, could I?

Suddenly, I was hungry. I wasn’t hungry for anything back home—I wanted nothing more than to pop open a walnut or a peanut and chew it with my teeth. But I didn’t like nuts. I was whatever you call the step before allergic. Whenever I popped one in my mouth, I almost gagged.

As I lay on the ground, inching toward the forest clearing, I saw the same velvet glint I had been so eager to see. A fox, as gently as can be, lay one paw, then another, into the clearing. It arched its neck and turned to me. I had never been so close.

It was a perfect and never-ending red, with golden eyes that shimmered amongst the flowers. Its peaked ears rested on its scalp like a rabbit’s. Its two canine teeth protruded into its jaw and curled its tongue inward. I shifted my own furry head, and I saw it from a new angle. It was malnourished and weak, its four knees curling down from fatigue.

And then it pounced. I had no sense of space or how far away it was, but I knew it would chew me down and swallow me.

Maybe that’s nature.

But again, almost instinctively, my arms jumped and contorted, and I began rolling back down the hill I had spent at least a few minutes climbing. But it could’ve been seconds. Hours, maybe.

I rolled, like the water I was tumbling toward, thwacking into sharp rocks and staining them with the dirt on my fur.

I fell into the rushing water and crashed against the rocks. As I lay there, sprawled out, using what little strength I had to cling on, I saw it again. The fox seemed wary of the crashing water. It put one paw in, climbing rock to rock toward me. Its weak body, jagged with brittle bones and ribs, almost in sync with the water.

My squirrel body relaxed and fell to the water and then was washed up between two smaller rocks. The fox climbed over and stood on the rock. It laid one paw on the rocks. And saw me. Its yellow eyes charged forward and gleamed into my black ones. In the very back of its memories, I saw two pups. They were even hungrier.

I understood. As it shared its message with me, the squirrel, I was hypnotized in the creature’s eyes.

*          *          *

I woke up back at the top of the field. I could already feel the memory fading from my mind. So I took a twig, and I drew the best fox I could in the sinewy mud. I looked at the rough mud sketch and smiled.

I rolled over and headed back into the house. I was almost limping from the soreness of being hit against the rock.

The fox would do anything for her pups. She was a hunter and a mother.

Nature is something that doesn’t care whether you are split in two. It’ll chew you up either way, just like anyone else.

My dad walked out of the cottage. “Hey.” He eyed me up and down, seeing the mud on me.

“We should probably clean you up.” He smiled.

I nodded, tired. I felt at peace.

Leo Roiphe
Leo Roiphe, 12
Brooklyn, NY

Joey Vasaturo
Joey Vasaturo, 10
Colebrook, CT