Despite how many times I’ve driven to this spot, I still have to sift through the trees bordering Ramsdell to make sure I don’t miss the turn. The fading brown paint on the entrance sign hides a few feet back from the road, often merging with the colors of the dirt parking lot behind it as you approach. The rubber of my tires crinkles against the pebbles as I turn off the pavement, swinging a wide left to pull into a parking spot, one facing the road. I twist the keys back towards me. I turn the music off and dump my phone in the console with my wallet. And, as I’ve done a hundred, maybe a thousand times, I stare out at the road from between tree branches. Take a deep breath. Turn my palms upward on my lap. Tell the silence I have come to know as God that I’m listening, that I’m here to listen.
I open my car door, grabbing the energy drink I picked up from the Ago gas station on Belding road as I step out; they rebuilt the place a few years back, a gift both to frequenters of these trails and to energy drink connoisseurs like myself. Today, I’ve selected the Razzle Berry flavor of Reign—a favorite among polished palates like mine. I stride up to the brown fiberglass planks of the boardwalk, passing two middle-aged women in puffer vests and beanies as they finished chatting in the parking lot. Already I’m negotiating my failure to bring gloves. I switch the hand that wields the 16-oz. can, pulling the other out of the cold and placing it in the pocket of my jacket—the big, dark blue one I’ve had since high school.
A cold, almost searing autumn wind hits me from my right, blowing across the lake in a cavalry of ripples and reddening my face. I pass a fisherman, his hood up as he, seemingly absentminded, reels his bobber back in. He has a kid with him, one too short to both sit on the bench and have his feet planted on the boardwalk, so he looks out at the lake, just swinging his legs back and forth. After a few minutes the stern plodding of my feet on the floating planks changes back to the crunch of gravel as I walk out of the wind and into the woods, snaking around a few bends, past the bathroom building and a few educational signs about invasive species. My very red, very numb fingers dig beneath the tab of the can as I snap it open. Before long I’ve arrived at my favorite section of the trails, where the red-marked one diverges from the blue, treading upwards in a slow incline.
This is my favorite part because this is where it gets quiet. Seems that most hikers prefer to stay in view of the lake, so they take the flatter blue trail that directly circles it. I’m here to be alone, and I don’t mind the increase in heart rate as I hike both farther up and deeper into the woods. After I round the first bend, I look around to make sure I don’t see the flash of a down jacket or hear the giggle of a kid anywhere. I’m alone, it seems. I’m alone.
So I start talking to myself, to God, just under my breath even as it heaves a little, the incline growing steadily steeper. I talk about the lake and autumn in Michigan. About the week behind, the one ahead. The days that I seemingly just stroll through, sometimes unaware and sometimes far too aware. Usually I have a couple things on my mind. I think everyone should be allowed to have a few things on their mind, so long as they get sorted out eventually. I thank Him for my family, for the many things I’ve come to call gifts, though they often don’t feel that way. I thank Him for the energy drink, for zero-calorie sweeteners—I do that a lot. I joke about talking to myself, the strangeness of wandering through the woods to my own narration. Occasionally I see someone ahead or hear them coming from behind, so I shut up and give a nod as we pass each other. My jaw feels rubbery in the cold, but I keep talking and it stays warm enough.
After a while I’m slinging an empty can and rounding the last bend, rounding out the last few things I’ve got to say. Usually by then it’s getting repetitive, and much less articulate as the cold and the tired of a Saturday morning get to me. I say the last of my thank you’s as I walk over a short bridge, the road and its sounds coming back into sensation. Silent, I push through the turnstile gate, round the bend after the last of the bridges, the fence surrounding the parking lot and rows of vehicles crunching closer and closer. I dig my keys out of my pocket, unlock my car and sit down. I look out the window for a moment, out at the road, a black SUV whipping by. And I just nod my head, exhale a little laugh out of my nostrils. Think of Him as watching me through the windshield, amused by this strange habit of mine. I’ll be back next week.
Kipp De Man graduated from Calvin University in 2023, having majored in film and media studies. He is currently working towards a master’s degree in the same discipline at Washington University in St. Louis. He enjoys reading and writing poetry, rock climbing, and Coke Zero.