It’s disturbing, the wilderness.

Dead chestnuts loom throughout Shenandoah National Park.
Dead chestnuts loom throughout Shenandoah National Park.

Disturbing in a way that makes your skin crawl as every flying bug closes its eyes and runs straight into your mouth or climbs across your neck. You swat, smack, and search with your fingers. Yet, the relief of this movement will only last for a few seconds.

Disturbing in a way that makes your eyes dart up and down, left and right – as you stumble on rocks and trip on roots, or when the leaves rustle next to the path as you walk by. Just a small chipmunk. But next time, it could be a snake.

Disturbing in a way that makes your mind run from one dark scenario to another as a cacophony of birds falls silent, the wind blowing through the trees suddenly stops, the bugs humming in your ears vanish, and an eerily silence floats in the air.

Disturbing in a way that makes your heart beat faster as an approaching storm darkens your path and threatens with lightening.


As one heavy hiking boot steps in front of the other and the sharp end of a pole pokes in the mud, you trample through a grove of mountain laurels that aimlessly fall to the ground with a brush of a shoulder. Daddy longlegs scamper under a log for protection. Millipedes coil up and release a cherry-almond scented cyanide to try to keep you away. You scramble down a path of crumbling rocks and delicate plants to shorten the journey – avoiding unnecessary exertion at all costs.

The path in front of you widens into a well-worn route guarded by dead chestnut branches, reaching out – as if to ask why. Why do you take the pathway of disregard? Why do you bring disease from Europe and invasives from Asia? Why do you tarnish the streams, pollute the sky, and rape the land? Why do you disturb?

This story was inspired by a residency in Shenandoah National Park and accompanied reading. 

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