The Wilderness

…it exists at the junction of betrayal, heartache, and hope.

The days seem to blend together in an endless stream of sameness as I journey further into the wilderness. There really is no beginning or end just a senseless jumble of destruction. The once mighty forest lays in ruin about me charred as if some hell spawn has unleashed the very fire of the netherworld upon it. I remember the mighty oaks, majestic maples; the stately firs that seemed to tickle the top of the world. If I close my eyes I can feel the dappled sunlight on my cheeks, I can hear the creek in the distance as it carelessly chooses its path down the hillside. It’s only an illusion there hasn’t been any life or joy in these parts recently, the sun no longer warms the earth beneath my feet and an endless twilight reigns in the heavens.

The cold pierces you to the core, a seeping damp bitter cold, not the crisp clean biting of winter but a wet penetrating misery that is inescapable. It’s been so long since I have been warm that I have given in to the creeping numbness invading me. There is no breeze, but I occasionally catch the scent of the charred trees their death the aftermath of some great battle that has raged before me. I pick my way through, remembering better times, happier times, and a carefree youth long since withered away.

I am not alone though; I carry with me my life-long companions, they are constant in their loyalty, diametrically opposed; yet symbiotic in their relationship. Rage a shadowy form on the periphery of my awareness, is available with a thought, strong, maybe too strong, decisive, a fearful warrior and admittedly difficult to control. These days he burns bright with an inner glow that lights the way ahead. I hold him back, but this is his landscape, his home and he revels in the destruction. Love I keep next to me always tucked beneath my tunic close to my heart. There is comfort there, warmth that once spread and encompassed everyone and everything I was close to. There is little enough of it left though, the years of travel have taken their toll and the senseless destruction about us quells his spirit; I fear I may lose him before the journey is done.

As I make camp in what passes for evening, I am weary so weary, more so than I can remember. I hear Rage pacing in the background shuffling through the ashes I can feel the tension the barely restrained urge to hunt; in my head the chant “let me free, let me free, let me free.” As I curl beneath my cloak holding Love close; I cry out in prayer, but there is only silence in the deepening twilight…

I wake from a fitful sleep; rest is no longer a possibility only the residual nuances of my circadian rhythms allowed me to drift off at all. I break camp not knowing what the “day” holds only knowing that when I cease to struggle forward the journey will truly be over. I hear the wind whispering to me through the pine boughs above; but I know it’s only a cruel illusion, as my God no longer walks here. I pick my way around the boulders strewn like a child’s blocks across the landscape. I ponder a destination, where am I going and what do I hope to find there? Is there really a valley somewhere on the horizon, a place not touched by the hand of this death, still alive, with dreams and hopes to share? It seems so real on the nights I am able to snatch bits and pieces in my fitful sleep. It’s only these fleeting images that propel me forward with some fools hope of a better tomorrow.

The alternatives are bleak and gnaw away at the edges of my consciousness and always that incessant chant “let me free, let me free, let me free.” I dare not look into that black maw for fear of finally plunging forward and abandoning myself to the despair that lies within. I fight back with weakening resolve and press forward already weary. My mind aches with memories of the past, I struggle to understand how I came to be here; I am trapped in this desolation, tortured by thoughts and memories I can’t seem to block out. Images play through my waking vision a film reel of sorrow on an endless loop.

How long have I been lying here? I struggle to my feet; there is a quiet solitude that surrounds me. I know this is my destination, my journey is ending; I shrug off my bonds and venture forward damn the consequences I am desperate to finally know what lies ahead …

What happens in a man’s life that leads him to a place in the wilderness where his faith falters and he questions the very essence of things? It is only love that can wreak such havoc and love that may ultimately save him. One doesn’t awake one morning in this solitary landscape; it is the culmination of a long journey beginning years earlier…

Author’s Note: I tried to capture in this piece the heartache, hopelessness, and emotional trauma created by betrayal, adultery, the loss of a cherished relationship. So often, especially as men, we are unable to express how we feel. For me translating those feelings into a story, a picture, a journey if you will was a way to embrace these feelings and ultimately work through them – finally finding some peace and closure. I don’t offer any answers or guidance other than to say if you find yourself in the wilderness journey forward, find your valley of hope, don’t give in or give up…

About the Author

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Born in Manhattan in 1965 Joseph Castagno is the son of a second generation Italian American father. His mother’s family were mixed heritage people: Indigenous Haudenosaunee, French, some of the earliest Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley. Growing up with such a multicultural heritage provided him with a view of both the immigrant experience, a perspective on the founding principles and ideals of the United States as well as the original teachings and ways of Northeastern Indigenous people. Having lived all over the United States Joseph has a broad perspective on US society and the variety of social values and customs that make up this great country. He currently resides in Florida with his wife Tammy, having raised four children they are now enjoying their grandchildren. Joseph has always had a passion for reading and writing and has published a number of articles in local papers and magazines. After a long career in healthcare he published his first novel “Jake” in 2016 drawing on his experiences and observations living in the Southeast and Florida. His current novel “Traffic” has just been published and he is currently working on his next novel and spoiling his granddaughters!

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