A Brief Encounter

At first, I thought they were dandelion seeds lifting up into the air, drifting lazily over the river and then settling into the shadows of the forest. I smiled, rushing to where the specks came from with a kind of fervent curiosity that only small and inconsequential occurrences can invoke. In the few seconds before reaching the riverbank, I was five again. The white flecks were a magic dust of sorts, deposited by the wand of a native woodland sprite. Or they were oversized and belated snowflakes, catching the light of the springtime sun and carrying it with them until floating down to the dead forest floor as if to sleep. The waterside revealed the true origin of the specks; they were brought not by a fairy or unseasonal snowfall, but instead whisked away from foam that accumulated on the edges of the stream and then transported by an off chance wind to where I had been sitting.  

It was late April and the forest surrounding me looked tired but steadily growing. For every decayed leaf or twig, a green shoot poked its way through the earth and a swelling bud declared the tree it grew on alive. Spring encourages growth in the woods but at the same time quickens the pace of death as new warmth accelerates plant decay. When leaves and branches by the river rot, they release compounds that shatter the surface tension of the water. Air mixes easily with the water, creating bubbles that congregate as natural foam. On windy days, pieces of the foam rise and sail over the landscape, then descend and scatter across the damp foliage. There they shine until the sun turns its back and the forest again becomes still.

I did not know any of this at the time and was happy in my not knowing. The forest and drifting flurries could remain as what simply met my eye. Breathing in the sweet rot of the woods, I followed the white flakes and caught one in my fist. My fingers uncurled, blooming like petals around the off-white powder. Crushed, the foam looked like pollen in the center of my palm. How fast it had softened and disintegrated to dust. I wondered how long it would take for the leaves and trees to do the same. And for that matter, my memories from that day, which I knew would last for only a short while.

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