Lost (and found) in the Babí lom woods
Sometimes the best way to find something is to lose and get lost.
‘I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing’. She had no idea what she was doing, but she had to tell herself that in order to focus. Acknowledging that she had no clue implied admitting that she was lost. Lost in the woods around Babí lom. Could it be any lamer than that? She knew those woods by heart, so often had she been hiking and walking their web-like trails. And now she, of all people, was lost.
‘Come on, Ana, get a bloody grip’, she said aloud. She could almost hear the echo of the dry leaves rustling underneath her feet as she walked uphill. She was going back toward the watchtower, where she’d supposedly dropped her house key. Yes, it had to be somewhere at the top, most likely by the iron railing at the base of the tower. She’d probably dropped it while fumbling for sandwiches in her bag.
‘Yes, but what if it’s not ther-’. ‘Shut up! It is there’, she barked to the tiny voice in her head.
She’d been around the woods for hours, and she hadn’t bumped into a single living soul, which you could easily expect, if you went hiking in the hills on a random weekday in March. Most people are at work at 2 o’clock on a weekday in March. Except, not her. She was having her first day off – well, her first jobless day in years.
She could barely bring herself to think back to the day before: the one-to-one meeting with her manager, his (not too) veiled hinting at the extra time off she’d had to take, and the sour epilogue. While being politely ‘escorted’ to the ground floor and made to step out of the revolving doors, she’d told herself it was over. Her contract had been terminated and she was unemployed.
She’d walked back into the city centre on automatic pilot, struggling to make sense of what had just happened. As she’d got back to her flat, she’d dived into the bed, hidden underneath her polka dot duvet, and shut her eyes tight. She just wanted the day to come to an end as quickly as possible. Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow I’ll think about the rest.
And ‘tomorrow’ think about the rest she did.
She cracked her eyes open a little, only to realise it was earlier than she hoped: 7.30am. It took her a few seconds to recollect the events of the day before. When it hit her, a mild wave of panic travelled through her body. ‘Right, that’, she whispered to herself. Her flat was silent, the sky outside greyish and overcast. Its glare cast a silver light on all things around. She still hadn’t bought curtains for the window or rugs to cover the scratches on the floorboards. But then, she’d only moved in a week earlier and she’d barely had time to buy food, let alone furnishings and kitchenware. I could go to IKEA today, she thought. It seemed like a fairly sensible way to set herself a goal for the day, not having anything else on her hands. Then she sat up, like suddenly remembering something long forgotten, and shook her head, as if disagreeing with herself. ‘I could go to IKEA, but I won’t’, she replied to her inner suggestion. ‘I’m going to the woods instead’.
Her love story with woods, forests and the like had been going on since she could remember. First, she’d picked up hiking and walking in the countryside near her hometown. Then, since she’d moved abroad, she’d been chasing after natural views and landscapes as a general rule, as one of those things that come so natural you simply can’t help them. Brno was no exception. The woods were her thing, her pastime and her escape. And an escape was exactly what she needed right then.
Where could she go? She ruled out places that were too far away: she didn’t want to spend half of the day on public transport. She also ruled out places that were too close to the city, as she needed some physical space around herself. That meant no Raisova reserve, no Wilsonův les, no Anthropos park, not even Lužánky park, her very first Brno love.
Babí lom was the one. Its distance from the city was average (not too far, but not too close), plus it was one of the Brno places she was most familiar with. She knew her way around its trails so well that even blindfolded she wouldn’t get lost. She’d fallen for Babí lom the very first time she’d been there, soon after moving to Brno. It had something unique to it, be it the rocky crest you could hike along on top of the hill, or the tree house that took her objectively too long to spot when she was first there.
She hopped on tram 1 to Semilasso, and then took bus 41 to Lelekovice. As soon as she got off in Lelekovice, she delved into the woods. She was going straight for the watchtower: the view from its top was one of her favourite Brno views. As she picked up her usual hiking stride, snapshots from the day before sprung back to mind out of the blue. She hiked on, fighting them back. Focus on the trees. Ana always joked that the trees around Babí lom were so tall and so slim you could rightfully ask yourself how they could stand so straight. You could expect their upper branches to get entangled in the clouds anytime.
The images from the previous day were still there. She couldn’t block them out.
She made an abrupt left turn off the main trail, and headed straight for the hilltop. Focus on the rocks. The rocks at Babí lom had bright, vivid colours that made them look hyper-realistic. They had a tactile feel to them, ranging from cold, bare patches to their plushy moss-covered counterparts.
The images were still there.
Okay, fine, it’s not working. Let’s get something out of it then, she said to herself. As she marched uphill, she resolved to make an orderly list of rambling thoughts that she could use to try and make sense of her predicament. By the time she reached the tower, though, she’d only managed to collect a handful of arguments that were too feeble to stand.
One: Brno gave me a job, and now Brno has left me jobless. Jobless in a foreign country… She understood that to some people the whole thing potentially had a kind of exciting feel to it. Just not to her and her orderly, horror-vacui-like frame of mind. Having so much unexpected time on your hands could be as dreadful as not having any at all.
She reached the hilltop, and headed left, along the crest.
Two: what shall I do now? Shall I just go back home? Maybe it was a sign, that she’d lost her job right then, a sign that she had the option to go. But then, was that what she wanted? She knew instantly it wasn’t. She’d grown to like Brno a lot as the months had passed: its cafes and tea rooms, its bars and clubs, the hills and the woods in the Brno area, and the amazing, special people she’d met along the way. Brno had a kind of homey feel to it, and she knew she wasn’t willing to let go of it.
She was going so fast she’d almost reached the tower, barely caring that the occasional shower had left her half soppy wet.
Three: had she rightfully been given the pink slip? True, she’d had to take a few extra days off recently, but that wasn’t because she fancied some last-minute holiday or wanted to be lazy. She’d had to leave for a couple of weeks: her family needed her, and she’d had to rush back home, and more importantly, she’d wanted to rush back home and be there for and with them.
Finally, the tower, the spiral staircase and the familiar view from the top. Ana stood there for a good twenty minutes. She stared ahead so intently as if to engrave the outline of every tree and every cloud on her mind. The silence was deafening but for the occasional gush of wind blowing in her ears. The landscape was like a sea of hills, stretching ahead as far as the eye could see.
Hard as she’d tried, she told herself as she went back downstairs, Ana hadn’t found a fourth argument to add to her list. She stood by the railing next to the tower. She realised she was ravenous, which she was very grateful for: at least the need for food was easier to quench than many others. She grabbed her packed lunch from her rucksack and tucked into her sandwiches, while keeping an eye on the landscape.
Shaking breadcrumbs off her hands and mack, she reached two conclusions. The first was that egg and cheese sandwiches were always her favourite lunch treat when she went hiking or walking in the nature. The second was that she’d soon head back to Brno. She couldn’t escape from herself, nor could she avoid the reality of things. She resolved to go back to the city centre and ring up a couple of her most trusted friends. If she were to face it all, she also needed people to share it with, of that she was sure.
While trotting downhill toward Lelekovice, she only stopped briefly to drink a few gulps of water. Then she resumed walking. A few seconds later, she froze in her tracks for no apparent reason, and it hit her. When she’d opened her bag to get her water bottle, she’d noticed that her house key wasn’t in the pocket where she always kept it. Frantically she took off her rucksack and unzipped the pocket: no key. She unzipped any other pocket that could be unzipped, searching everywhere: still no key. ‘Oh please, not this also!’, she cried out loud. ‘Okay, don’t be a crybaby’, she told herself. She stared at the ground and recollected the sequence of actions from the previous few hours, concluding that she must have dropped the key somewhere along the way. Yes, but where and when?
It could be literally anywhere. It might have rolled down the slope after hitting the ground, or it might be lying underneath the leaves, and good luck spotting it. It was a very long shot, but she had to give it a try and walk all the way back to square one. Which, oh the irony, was surprisingly accurate a metaphor of her current predicament in life.
Dejected, she dragged herself back toward the tower, her eyes glued to the ground as if they knew where to search.
Leaves, roots, mud, moss, mud, leaves, leaves, roots, leaves.
‘Keep going, don’t panic’, Ana said aloud to calm herself down. ‘What am I going to do, what am I going to do?’, she replied to herself.
Roots, moss, mud, leaves, roots, leaves, mud, leaves.
Even the night before, in spite of what had happened, she’d slept surprisingly well, probably because she loved the large bed in the cosy studio she’d just moved into. Except, she thought, she may not be able to even enter her flat ever again, if she’d lost the bloody key.
Moss, moss, leaves, roots, mud, leaves, mud.
She’d have to call a locksmith, have the lock forced open (if not the door itself torn down), call the locker again and/or a carpenter, have a new lock (if not a new door) installed… How could she afford the expenses? She’d have to tell her landlady at some point. What if she got evicted for excess of unreliability? How could she be trusted with the ownership of a flat? Then she’d be jobless and homeless, and-
Okay, too much. Now, shut up and march on, she told herself.
The key was nowhere near the tower, and Ana was growing to believe that it was gone for good. Some things are just lost, and you can’t find them again. Such is life, and such is my key.
She sat on the wooden bench in the tiny room next to the tower and pondered her options. She was halfway between disheartened and resigned. The sun peeked through the arched entrance, tracing a line of light and dust across the wall. She was almost contemplating running away, literally fleeing from everything, like you know you shouldn’t do because that’s not how you cope with things. Then, gradually but unexpectedly, a sense of reassuring calm descended upon her. Maybe the peaceful silence of the hills had somehow got to her, or maybe she was just so tired she couldn’t bring herself to care, hard as she tried. Whatever the reason and however temporary the feeling, she liked it a lot.
She unzipped her rucksack to get some chocolate. She raised her eyes to the ceiling as she fumbled in the larger pocket, when her fingers brushed against something cold, metal-like. It was tied to a roundish circle, and it made a clinging noise. ‘What is…’, she whispered to herself. She made to grab the metallic thingy, whose shape she struggled to identify. It felt like-
She stared at the wall, transfixed.
Her house key.
She held it up, as if seeing it for the first time. A rush of exhilaration went through her body. All this time, and the key had always been in her rucksack. It’d probably just fallen out of the back pocket to the bottom of the bag. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or be angry at her earlier frustration, so she just smiled an inner smile, covering her eyes with her hand.
After replacing the key in the pocket where it belonged, she made to head back (this time for real) to the centre.
For the whole bus and tram journey she kept going back to the previous few hours. She couldn’t believe things had unfolded as they had. Getting off tram 1 at Brno Hlavní nádraží, though, she chose to stop asking herself questions. Things had unfolded as they had, and she knew she’d be fine. She had everything she needed to cope with them.
She had people she could trust and rely on. She had a few ideas about how and where to start looking for a new job in Brno. She had a flat she’d soon be decorating as she wished. She’d buy new rugs and curtains, and she’d remove the glowing bedroom stars left behind by the previous tenant, because they scared her at night.
And she had her house key – which she’d always had, but let’s not dwell on that.
All was good.