My Mind's Path
This is an excerpt of a fictional story about a young man who grew up in a village where he feels he doesn’t belong. As he takes a walk in the forest to unwind his thoughts, he gets lost. Thanks to a series of seemingly unimportant observations and unexpected encounters, he not only learns more about himself but also about what drove him to escape his daily life in the first place.
By ties Gijzel
Does my identity
Not only consist of
An incomplete collection of
Other people’s recollection of
Moments out of
Chapter 1 | A cow-grass relationship
Yellow flowers stood out above the grass. They seemed to nod to - or rather to bow for - the supremacy of the wind. My feet found their way around the flowers. Mother Nature fooled me once again: unconsciously, I was only protecting the yellow flowers because of their pretty colour, another proof of the fact that I succumb to the same kind of superficiality that I usually try to oppose. At about 2 meters distance, a chubby cow stood munching grass. Next to the animal lay a big heap of cow dung that the cow must have left there without giving it a second thought. At first glance, the image of a cow eating grass next to a heap of dung may seem uninteresting, but it actually reveals an ingenious system. The cow eats the grass while fertilizing the grass with its dung. They create each other’s building blocks and validate each other’s existence. Their successful cooperation depends on the simple fact that they don’t realize what they’re doing. If they’d be more conscious about this fact, perhaps they would try to exploit each other, which would mean there could only be one winner. Their lack of awareness prevents Animal Farm-like exploitation.
The cow-grass relationship actually applies to many things in the world. Symbiosis can be found in places where you least expect it. Sharks are constantly accompanied by little fish that clean their skin and, in return, are spared from being eaten, while flowers do everything they can to feed bees that fly around their fields with their nectar, only to fertilize their direct neighbors. The only deviation to nature’s usually sensible strategy of self-perseverance is the fact that humankind exists. We are the world’s boldest experiment; simultaneously its biggest threat and its biggest hope. Unlike cows and grass, we do register what we’re doing. We know how to exploit, while we are also perfectly aware of what we should do. It’s our basic moral compass. This way, we don’t only use our intelligence to invent ways to exploit the environment, but we also use it to develop tools that could improve it. In this way, we might even be able to protect the planet. In the beginning mostly from ourselves, but eventually, we might even be the planet’s white blood cells that keep its ecosystem in balance. Maybe human evolution is nature’s only means of accomplishing self-preservation, namely by allowing evolution to select nature’s best soldiers.
Chapter 2 | Ruthless tree families
After crossing the farmland, I opened the wooden gate and walked along a path into the woods. I walked through the forest, not knowing where I was heading, but knowing why I had left the comfort of my home. Not having a goal has always been my strategy. It is at these moments when I am least inclined to ignore the spontaneous opportunities that present themselves - as they always do - along the way. I kept walking and followed the footsteps that my mind set out before me. With every step I took, my mind took two, forcing me to focus on my line of thinking instead of the direction I was going.
Going for a walk isn’t just a way to stretch my legs: it also helps me with airing my soul. Most of the times my unconsciousness takes a tangible form, and during these moments I hardly pay attention to my surroundings. But now and then, when my focus fades away, something seemingly irrelevant grabs my attention. This at first sight unimportant observation slowly materializes into a bigger idea. With every step I took, my mind took two and I suddenly began to wonder about what the purpose of a tree might be.
A tree’s main objective is obviously to survive, but as every living thing it must have its own strategy to do so. Trees need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to survive . The competition with other trees, however, is brutal. Which is why I don’t understand why trees cluster together and form woods. In a forest, the competition for water and sunlight is enormous, which makes it difficult for a tree to survive. A tree can’t really choose where to settle. It just drops down in the form of a seed from another tree, and lands somewhere close to its ‘parent’. In a way, a tree thus actually creates its own competitors. To survive for as long as possible, a tree needs to grow taller and taller to capture the sunlight of the other trees. In other words, a tree contradicts itself; it creates competitors and then does everything in its power to destroy them. So weird. People often associate a forest with a peaceful atmosphere, whereas a forest is in essence a collection of ruthless tree families …
I lost grip of time, and I looked for a point that could help me to indicate where my feet had taken me. This place in the forest was new to me, and I slowly started to wonder how in earth I would find my way again. I looked around, confused, until I spotted an old man sitting underneath a red oak tree, downhill. The man had a friendly, hairy face, which he hadn’t shaved in months. I went up to him to ask for directions, .but before I was at speaking distance, he had already turned his head in my direction. His eyes followed me while I walked downhill, trying not to slip and fall in the mud.
The man laughed while he took an apple out of a small bag in which he presumably carried all of his possessions. His clothes were ripped and dirty. There was a walking cane at his feet, a testament of his old age. Before I could say anything, the man spoke to me .
‘May I ask what a young man like you expects to find in an old forest like this?’
‘To be honest, I am not looking for anything, really. I just wanted to get away from what I found.’
The old man flashed an understanding smile For a while, there was an uncomfortable silence between us. I refused to be the first to break it, and waited for the old man to speak again.
‘You claim, and somehow even believe, that you’re not running away from something. But what I see here is a young boy, lost in his own thoughts. Isn’t that something only old men are allowed to do?’
The sun had already passed its midday peak. The light had turned softer and a cold wind had already started to prevail over the sun’s warmth. I sat down next to the old man and began to speak. I told him about this one road that runs right through the woods and connects my village to another village. It is the only road leading out of the town, and it leads to a similar place with a similar type of people - not my type of people.
To me, a village is a hollow collection of individuals. It’s not uncommon in villages to be born and die in the same house. Whenever I am forced - by family obligations - to return to the village, I feel instantly suffocated by the social control around the village.
I found it hard to admit that I just grew up in the wrong place; over time, people here have never really changed a lot. In my village, houses don’t have front doors to be opened, but to be closed. People don’t use their gardens to enjoy the sun, but to block the sunlight with their high hedges and thick oak trees. Houses don’t have windows for people to look out of, but are used by people to peek into your house.
In a village people want to collect as much information about each other as possible. Information is a powerful asset - especially if you know something about someone else that no one else knows. At best, this person doesn’t even want you to know his or her secret, which gives you the upper hand if you do manage to obtain it. This valuable asset is often used as a medium of exchange; it is a ‘if you tell me, then I’ll …’ type of thing.
If you’re talking to someone, the best strategy is to mention you know something about another person, and to then leave them behind in a state of confusion. It is simply a way to increase the value of your asset. After all, it’s the asset’s value that gets you noticed by others. The saddest part about all this is that, the moment other people start noticing you, they immediately turn you into an asset. That’s exactly what defines a village: a collection of assets, subject to speculation, that creates victims of a volatile emotional cycle. I loathe the term ‘asset'; too economical, just like the people here.
ties gijzel IS AN AWE FOUNDER AND EDITOR.