The winding dirt road abandons the highway five miles south of town. But perhaps road is too grand a term for what meanders lazily into the otherwise untouched coastal forest. Maybe trail would be a better description. Alder and cedar boughs mesh in a green canopy that nearly blocks the sky and dapples the path with ever-changing pools of light and shadow. Sword fern and huckleberry peek between the denser foliage of salal and salmonberry bushes. Blackberry vines creep, almost invisibly along the verge.
Sparrows, warblers and robins; wrens, towhees and flickers flit through the greenwood, singing and calling to one another. Deer, silent and slender, step onto the path, ears alert as the canopy above them begins to tremble. They stand, frozen for a moment, then melt into the underbrush and disappear like wisps of smoke on a breeze.
A black bear lumbers onto the trail, head low, searching for grubs or mice, or the juicy berries so scarce in the shadow of the canopy. A draft drops from above and twists around his shoulders, tickles his ears and playfully ruffles his shaggy coat but he only lifts his burly head, sniffing the air, then continues his hunt, careless of the playful breeze.
The wind sweeps onward, tossing fallen leaves and small sticks aside in its forward rush.
Eventually the track opens onto a sundrenched meadow dotted with wildflowers and bordered by overgrown hydrangea and rhododendrons. Wild roses and brambles tangle together in impassable thickets where hummingbirds and bumblebees sip sweet nectar, and long-legged spiders spin silvery webs among the branches. Here the zephyr pauses, barely moving the leaves of the shrubs and only touching the delicate pink petals.
But it’s enough. A large black dog, lounging on the steps of a ramshackle cabin, raises his tousled head, ears perked. He knows this breeze, this gentle swish of leaves and branches. He struggles against stiff joints to raise himself as the wild rose blossoms begin to quake.
For a while he watches the yard, his eyes shining, waiting or the dancer he knows will soon arrive.
And suddenly, a gust of wind catches the rusty leaves of a cascara and flings them high in the air. They spin in a wild roll across the clearing and settle beside the steps for a moment. Birds, silenced by the coming gale, seek shelter low in the shrubbery. The old dog whines as the leaves are whipped into the air again and are joined by twigs and seed heads, swirling and looping around the meadow.
As the wind picks up, more and more leaves, faded petals and dandelion fluff enter the dance, swinging and curling through the alder and hydrangea. A shape begins to form in the blustery mass and now the old dog labors to his feet, tail fluttering. A shiver of anticipation runs the length of his unwashed back. He mmufs a welcome as he limps down the sloping wooden stairs onto the unmown grass and sits, ears erect, waiting.
More foliage and petals are drawn into the churning assemblage. It spires as a ball to the treetops and drops like a falcon toward the dog, stretching and wrapping around his neck in a boisterous caress then wheeling to the middle of the yard. The zephyr comes to rest there but its substance continues to twist and swirl, reshaping itself into the visage of a woman.
She smiles and reaches an airy hand toward the old dog. With a yelp of excitment, he bounds to her, yipping and leaping, his tail whipping back and forth. He presses against her, moaning low in his throat as she bends over him, pulling him close, nuzzling his neck and breathing silent words in his ear.
Then the zephyr whirls. She spirals through the shrubbery, tearing petals from their stems and ripping leaves to tatters. The old dog follows close behind, romping and gamboling, jumping when she rises and grabbing at sticks too large to carry. He crashes through clusters of ferns and groves of rhododendrons, unmindful of the white on his muzzle, the lumps on his hips or the pounding of his heart.
Soon enough the woman slows her wild chase and comes to rest on the meadow grass, leisurely shedding leaves and petals. The old dog splays out beside her, panting, his tail still thumping the ground, his heart still pounding in his white blazoned chest. The woman strokes his head and fondles his ear as his eyes gradually close. His tail becomes still, his heart gives a final flutter and the old dog’s breath stops.
The zephyr sighs, then soars straight into the air, makes a silent pass around the meadow, shedding all substance, and wafts back toward the black form on the unkept grass. As she nears the body a tentative breath rises to meet her. She hovers, waiting. It comes again and she embraces it, encourages it. She feels its wonder, its exhilaration and renewal, its joy.
Together the mistrals float upward, hardly disturbing the leaves of the alder or the drooping branches of the cedar with their passage. High into the heavenly vault the currents drift, while below, the birds resume their chatter, the doe and her fawn step carefully into the meadow, cautious of the strange black shape in the grass. And the bear, clumsy as ever, paws at a log beside the path, looking for grubs.
Although Linda Murray focuses on writing picture books and mid-grade chapter books, she occasionally ventures into the young adult fantasy/science fiction category. She has been involved with Writer’s Village University, off and on, for several years and credits the help and mentorship she has received there with the success of many of her projects.
Located in Canada.