past few days they wake to filtered light among the massive tree trunks.
The silent giants stretch far into the forest’s shadows, to the
limit of the human eye. The footing is easy here, where lack of sun
holds the underbrush at bay. The thick bed of needles is a welcome retreat
at the end of a long day’s walk.
The small band of travelers descends from generations
of south-migrating ancestors. They gather their equipment in a morning
that is temperate and still. In contrast to the inhabitants of the Midwest
and Northeast—who struggle in a harsh and icy world—they walk where
food is plentiful, as is material for tools, shelter, and clothing.
Coming down from the Appalachians, the travelers enter a flat expanse
of wetlands. Their world is largely defined by water, as the northern
glaciers melt and the Mississippi and its tributaries claim mile after
mile of floodplain.