The Rabbit Lived...
in a hole at the center of the world, starving and destitute, amalgamated from bits and pieces of traditions ancient and modern, carefully chosen for commercial appeal by humans engaged in a peculiar form of alchemy. Confused and lonely, her teeth had long ago been removed, and she no longer knew what color her fur had originally been, bleached white as it was by her captors over so many decades.
Once yearly, she was forced by her captors, begging and screaming, into servitude. Forced to leave behind hidden baskets and eggs filled with sugary concoctions to rot away the small teeth of children, rendering the offerings to the fairies worthy of little reward beyond nickels and dimes.
The rabbit meant something more to ancient peoples long forgotten, their descendants now partaking in a new form of worship, changed as they were by a changed world. There were no longer offerings. She was not even granted the pitiful treats given to Nicholas as recompense for his own yearly torment.
She yearned for the erasure granted to others like her. Better that than the distortion she now suffered. The only solace granted to her was the memory of what she once was, obscured by the distance of time.
The rabbit slept, dreaming of forgotten days, when she was the living symbol of the gods of spring, renewal, fertility, and love.
There is something very dear to me hidden in a grove of birch trees adjacent to the Shenandoah River. If you wish to find it, you will need three things: a vehicle, a rope, and a little bit of bravery. You’re going to need to climb. It will be worth it, I promise.
It’ll be easiest for you to start in Northern Virginia. Take I-66 West to exit 13. You’ll enter a town called Linden. If you must stop, do so before reaching Linden, you may not like what you find there, or what finds you. Upon entering Linden from the exit, you will reach a stop light. Turn right from there onto Route 55 West and keep driving. You may see some dilapidated old barns there that will tempt you into exploring them. Resist that urge. Linden is no place for us.
Count the stoplights as you go. Five is the number to remember: one, two, three, four, five. At the fifth stoplight, turn left onto 340 South. This is the final stretch. You will drive for eight miles on this country road. You’ll see a lot of cows and other livestock. Do not provoke them. They are dangerous, and so too are the farmers that tend to them. The park entrance will be on the right, and from there you will access the Shenandoah. Park the car, lock it, and leave the key behind the gas door, you won’t need it again.
Walk to the river. Tell me what you smell.
If mercury had a scent.
Walk to the river. Tell me what you see.
Soda cans, beer bottles, plastic bags from campers.
Dead fish in the shallows.
Well done. If you get hungry or thirsty, avoid eating the fish from the river or drinking the water. Not here. I hope that you brought a snack for your travels, I didn’t think to mention it before. Starting from the river access point, you will turn left and follow the river westward. You will be walking nine and a half miles. This should be easy for a person of your age and level of fitness. Humans are made for walking. This may take you some time. Enjoy the journey, you’ll see things many people never get to see in their entire lives.
Why am I doing this?
Continue walking until you reach a “Y” in the river. This time of year, the river is easily fordable. You will cross the river from the “Y”. Be mindful of the jagged rocks and broken glass. You may notice that there is no visible pollution here, so far from where most people journey. Nevertheless, do not drink the water. The mercury is ever-present.
Once you have crossed the river, search for the old ranger cabin. There will be a trail to it still easily discernible from the tree line near the riverbank. You have excellent vision; this should be easy. Upon reaching the ranger cabin, resist the urge to open the door. There’s no telling who or what has taken up residence there in the time that I have been gone. I’m too old to do this myself anymore.
Circle behind the ranger cabin and find the trailhead there. Stand at the entrance to it. Tell me what you hear.
Cracking of twigs.
Excellent. Then we have nothing to worry about. Now that we know that it’s safe, you can continue your journey. You’re close now. Continue walking along the path. Judging by the length of your legs, you should need only walk around half an hour before arrival.
It’s been 30 minutes. Am I here?
Yes. The birch grove is right in front of you. Enter it. At the center of the grove is a large birch tree. It is old. Older now than it ever was, and it was old long before you or I were ever born. Its scent is not as strong as those around it. I’ve left a tap, a hammer, and a bucket there for you. Tap the tree, but be polite about it, old timers like us deserve your respect, and to do otherwise to that tree will not bode well for your return journey. If done correctly, the sap will flow like water. It will seem like too much and you may feel like you are harming the old man, but don’t worry. Birch trees know exactly how much to give. You’ll need its strength.
Taste the sap. Describe it to me.
It’s not so much different than water.
I can taste the wood of the tree. Almost like mint.
It’s sweeter than any birch sap I’ve tasted.
That tends to be the case with old timers.
Now comes the time for bravery. You're brave aren't you?
I think so.
Good. Now, begin climbing the tree. It is exceptionally tall for a birch, reaching over 100 feet in height, taller than any birch tree in the world. This is a special tree. Bring your rope, you won’t need it for the climb, but you will need it for your descent. Climb to the top of the tree. Tell me what you see.
I see the sun setting upon the river.
I see the moon rising over the mountains.
What do you feel?
I feel the strength of the birch below me holding me up.
I feel the sap within my stomach.
I feel the chill air around me rustling in the leaves.
I feel peace.
Stay as long as you like.
But resist the urge to stay for too long.
It is easy to get lost in this place.