Early September, nearly three years into the pandemic, I leave my house for only the second time this year. While so many have moved on, eased back into their lives like slipping into an old skin, I am not so bold in the face of uncertainty. My long-held fear of germs coupled with chronic physical illness has left me loath to risk my health with even the slightest chance of exposure. Logically, I understand how little risk resuming my daily hikes would pose, but I’ve settled into a house-bound rut, content with my solitude. Yet my longing for the wild has begun to swell—a wave that might soon crest and wash me out of this house.

So when, at last, I wrest myself from the house to travel two blocks to the pharmacy for the newest vaccine, I’m not sorry when the pharmacist tells me they’re running behind, and that I should feel free to leave and wait at home for half an hour. Instead, I make a beeline for the forested corridor of river at the bottom of my street. The brisk morning air swiftly warms as the sun arcs toward noon, and the startling green of moss along the river-side trail is a revelation, the brightest thing I’ve seen in months. Monsoon season has soothed the desert’s chapped earth, everything plump and plush, brimming over. The river is swollen with deep wells of storm-surge, its water struck lucent by the white light of newly limpid skies. It spits and burbles over congregations of rock, melodious as the resonant plink of marimbas.

Each shock of green and note of water-song is a reminder of the worth of living in this world—something I’ve forgotten too often, lately. I leap from bank to island to bank, weaving weft across the warp of the current, feet sinking in silt, a cold gush of water welling in my shoes. The water rouses me, recalling a lifetime spent immersed in Lake Michigan before I made my move to the high desert. Legs damp, toes gritty with sand, I begin to feel like myself.

Water skimmers skate on the glassy surface casting dimpled shadows below, each dark, phantom foot haloed in a blaze of refracted sun where their scant weight pocks the surface. Along the banks, the marshy ground is alive with the scurrying of wolf spiders leaping through tangles of flood-tamped grass. Grasshoppers spring and sink to soil, exposing the streak of red splitting their green femurs like the ruby-veined stems of tumbleweed. I see signs of a puma—fur-laced excrement and the claw-less pads of a paw sunk deep in sand.

I venture out through the fields where I’ve never seen such a profusion of scarlet gilia. They pepper the rainswept verdure, diminutive orange cornets trumpeting across the land. A silvering of dew slicks the velvet nap of great mullein, leaves sagging with the weight of their glistering freight. Where hillside slopes to meet river, a low, lush sea of yellow shivers in the breeze, a glowing wash of goldenrod flecked with the dart and dash of bees. Fallen logs sprout shelves of white fungi round and delicate as sea shells, furred as lambs’ ears.

Mere inches from my feet, a dragonfly alights on a slender reed, a delicate cross formed of diaphanous wings and a svelte black body set with milky blue opals for eyes.  A hawk moth flits between blossoms of wildflower, their tawny-striped body held remarkably still, their rapid flutter painting the air a motion blur that hints at the rosy pink of their hind wings. I draw nearer, delighted they hold their course, undeterred from the hunt. I follow from bud to bud to watch as they unfurl their extraordinary proboscis, hair-thin and body-long, probing nectar from the base of each stamen. This is the company I have missed—quiet, transient, nonhuman.

This is all to say, in my absence the world kept rushing, greening, rotting, while I sat waiting, root-bound, somewhere between stasis and decay, to gather the strength for this first thrust toward air and light. I pray I won’t slip back into shadows, that my resolve will hold firm enough to see me river-side come autumn, cottonwoods rioting against the coming cold with an explosion of topaz and citrine, trees unlading cascades of worm-riven apples, keeping a garnet globe or two whole and sweet enough to tempt me outdoors before the ground is carpeted in the sugary, lactic flesh of spoiled fruit.