Let out late at the trailhead to hike with older kids—
My mom driving me across town in another search for friends—
I thought they could only be a short way ahead,
They'd have waited a while before they set out;
Whoever they were, I set a pace to catch up.

The road led down through fields and woods—
Which path—and I chose, and the bushes rustled,
Gravel scuffed under foot. I was hurrying now,
And fall was coming on brown and red among the grasses.
I don't remember calling out, or hearing the birds
That must have spoken; just the listening for what might be
Again the road divided
And I chose, going among trees—on the right a sycamore
Spoke its sighing name, on the left a white pine towered.
I was lost, and crying now, going on or going back
My only choice of directions. I hurried on for the springs
That had been our destination, though where they were
I had no idea, and my pockets empty of maps—
Taking a journey I did not want under the sun
That crossed overhead—a compass I could not read yet.

I never found the children ahead, or the spring—
But there were people I met on the way who told me the time.
It was time to go back; and I did, knowing no other way,
And saw how the hills ran at right angles to sun,
How shadows fell and the way led up past the sycamore,
Smooth in its skin, and the white pine waving.

And there were the grasses again, dustier; the familiar patches
Of brush; and under yellow leaves at the side of the road
I picked wild grapes, spit out the skins; found
The small bones littering a red slash of clay
Where a fox made its den.

I walked slowly, watching now, knowing there'd be,
At the top of the hill, my mother, in a black car waiting.

Robin Chapman

from The Way In (Tebot Bach)
originally appeared in The Hudson Review