Text: the dark forest

A story written by Timo Holthoff in response to experiences in the Gorca in Earth’s Care Bridge47 residency in 2019.


One day I went into a dark forest – a place I don’t know – what I usually try to avoid. But I was burning from the sun and so it seemed more tempting than usual to seek the shadow of the woods. Once I stepped inside the forest, its coolness began soothing the pain of my skin. I found pleasure in these lands and started wandering a bit without a sense of time. At some point I had strayed from the path and after a while I realized that I got lost. In my attempts to find my way out again I only got deeper and deeper into the dark forest. I started walking faster, changing directions erratically, looking for a clear path, but it just made me lose any sense of orientation. Alone in the darkness, fear rose in me, my heart beating wildly. I began to run in panic and without any direction. The shades of green and brown seemed to blur and spin around me, shadows of trees turned into monsters, the forest was closing in on me. Then all of a sudden, I stumbled over something hard and fell to the ground, my scream cut through the thick silence of the forest. It made me halt and pause. I checked what I stumbled over. I could not see the ground as a veil of fog was covering it. With my hands I sensed a stony object that had stopped my run. I blew the fog away and saw that it was a modest tombstone, covered almost entirely by vegetation. I scratched off some moss to see the inscription. It said


Died of Civilization

I frowned in surprise. I read the inscription out loud, said these words again and again, let them flow around my tongue. I was mesmerized by their peculiarity but I could not make any sense of them and of this grave.

Curiosity got hold of my entire body and as odd as it seemed to me, I put my hands into the cold wet soil and started digging. The deeper I dug, the more it felt like I was digging into my own intestines. But I could not stop. The soil started to feel warm and worms crawled through my fingers as I got deeper. Inside the grave some shape materialized underneath my searching hands. I discovered a human skeleton. I brushed of the dirt, sat back and looked down into the hole, stunned into paralysis.

I lifted the scull and took it in my hands. Gazing into its hollow eyes, it suddenly dawned upon me: the skeleton was mine. I dropped the scull and jumped back. My body shivered in shock and disbelief. I felt a desperate yearning from the bottom of my heart to make this body whole again, to bring this back to life. But how to revive a skeletonized body? – it is impossible! Pain and despair beheld of me and I crouched down inside the opened grave in agony for a long while, gently petting and grieving over the weathered bones, with my tears filling a muddy puddle in the grave.

Then, something touched my cheek, gently. I lifted and turned my head, it was a branch of a tree that bowed in the wind. I looked up and saw a giant tree with scarred bark, it must have been centuries old or even millennia. I recognized that its mighty roots were coming out of the grave, with thin extensions entangled with parts of the bones. The tree had grown from the soil of the composted body of which the skeleton remained. The thought calmed me. I looked up again and saw that the tree was bearing a fruit. I had not seen this kind of tree or fruit before and did not know if it was edible or poisonous. But since I felt this emptiness in my stomach, I took the risk of plugging the fruit and ate it. It tasted bitter-sweet and made me fall into a long hallucinogenic sleep.

I woke up with the singing of a bird. It sat high up in the crown of the tree and sang its beautiful song. Through the song, quite to my surprise, it told a story from my great-grandmother. It was not an accurate story and not fully comprehensible. But it gave me a direction. Following it, I found an unknown path that unfolded under my feet while I walked it, leading me out of the darkness. And while I was walking towards the margins of the woods with my senses newly awakened, I saw that I had just stumbled over the edge of what appeared to be an endless cemetery. And I sensed that I was not the only human being in the forest. There were others who were digging and walking with me.

When I finally stepped out of the woods, the sun made me smile again.

Timo Holthoff, 13.08.2019


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