The lush canopy of leaves envelope me as I make my way into the domain of the Lab. The light gray shadows loom, illuminated by the weak rays of sunlight which manage to shine through the thick blanket of leaves above me. The leaves shimmer as the light shines through their thin bodies, glowing as they flutter restlessly in the summer breeze. Several manage to separate themselves from their mighty origins and dance toward the earth below. Unseen, the birds sing their last farewells before night overwhelms them with a dark and powerful force. They chirp to one another, speaking in their mysteriously beautiful voices, the sound echoing musically in the air around me.
I step gently onto the remains of a wooden bridge, a bridge now no more than a single plank of wood balanced between the two banks on either side of the stream. I leap silently across, landing softly in the wet ground. The stream, only slightly murky, reveals the stones and pebbles making up its riverbed. I stoop low to the ground, examining a crayfish crawling slowly next to the stream. I smile, remembering back to my fifth grade year. We had gone on a field trip to go fishing for crayfish, and I had been absolutely terrified. Now, I simply smile and pet the crayfish with a single finger, wishing the crayfish good luck in its ventures in life. The water continues to flow fluidly past me, the sound soothing away all other thoughts.
I rise, listening to the nature around me, and make my way over to a second bridge, one more fully intact. With only a few planks missing, the bridge stands as the only man-made factor in the Lab. I lay on my stomach, lowering one arm down into an area of the stream deaper than where I had found the crayfish. The bridge creeks dangerously, but I do not move. My fingers meet the surprisingly cold water, but I do not remove my hand. I watch the water dance across the rocks, splashing up onto my exposed arm. I watch a frog leap swiftly into the water, disappearing behind a large stone. I wait. The frog appears again, leaping onto another stone. I stare at the frog, and the frog stares back at me. My breath becomes shallow but still even. Then, without warning, the frog flies once again into the air and disappears into the tall grass on the other side of the stream.
I rise once more, striding off the rickety bridge and up a set of makeshift stairs into the clearing ahead. Here, the sun shines without hindrance onto my face. I close my eyes and tilt my head back, absorbing the rays with pleasure. More elementary school memories flow through my mind, of catching bugs using jars of sugary sweets which attracted them to a place they would never return from. I remember finding my jar filled with ants. Others found bees, crickets, spiders, and more fascinating creatures than those in my jar. I smile at the memory. I pace the clearing, listening to the sound of the bugs which still roam free to this day; the music of nature.
At last, I arrive at the hidden entrance I have been waiting for. I stoop and crawl underneath the harsh branches of the bushes in my way. Soon, I find myself overtop the large tunnel. To this day, I have never once inquired as to the purpose of this tunnel; never once have I really cared. Several inches deep, the water flows endlessly through this tunnel tall enough for me to stand in. The water flows out into the Lab's stream. Inside, there are extraordinary amounts of graffiti covering every inch of dry surface, probably made by teenagers like myself who dare to venture inside, where no light remains.
I pull off my shoes and socks, leaving them atop the tunnel, and hoist myself down into the mouth of the tunnel. The penalty of losing footing here is falling into the deepest part of the stream where sharp rocks will easily tear through a person's flesh. I stand in the mouth, pulling out my flashlight and pressing the on button. I ignore the temperature of the tunnel floor on my bare feet and begin my pilgrimage into the tunnel in a half-crouched position. Soon, the light from the mouth of the tunnel fades away into pure darkness. Only the sound of my footsteps, clear over the rush of the water, can be heard. I concentrate on keeping my footing under control, not wanting to slip and fall into the freezing waters. My feet become soaked and cold, but I continue my pilgrimage.
At long last, the beam of my flashlight hits what I have been waiting for. The round tunnel flattens out into a cube-shaped area. The ceiling becomes tall enough for me to stand properly. On the other side of the room-like area loom two more tunnels, splitting and winding in opposite directions. But I stay in the room, standing on the ledge where the water does not travel. I pause to catch my breath before lifting my flashlight to illuminate the walls. My smile transforms into more of a smirk because I know who painted the art on these walls. I trace the outline of the designs, the smirk only widening as I go.
I turn and leap gracefully to the ledge opposite the one I had been standing on. I trace the designs here for only a moment before turning back to face the wall I had been originally standing next to. My light beam allows me to take in the full picture. To this, I cannot help but chuckle, a low sound in the back of my throat. The sound echoes around the room, momentarily drowning out the sound of the water.
I allow myself time to absorb my surroundings before I depart. I resume my previous half-crouch position and make my way from the room into the tunnel. The pilgrimage out of the tunnel seems to take half as much time as the pilgrimage in. Soon, the light seeping in from the mouth of the tunnel meets my gaze. I begin to walk faster, and moments later I am standing once again in the mouth of the tunnel, overlooking the Lab. The sound of the small waterfall beneath my feet sounds too loud to my ears. The birds seemed to scream their song, but only because my ears have been concentrating on the smallest of sounds. The light feels blinding to me after the intense darkness. I toss my flashlight over the tunnel to my shoes and hoist myself back up to solid ground. I sit on the top of the tunnel, allowing my senses to revert back to normal. I re-lace my shoes and make my way back to the clearing. I walk back down the makeshift stairs and across the bridge. I stride up the plank of wood and out of the Lab.
I stare around at the schoolyard. The children play on a playground after my time as a student here, not knowing from where I had just emerged. Some stare back at me before continuing their playtime. To them, the Lab stands as a mystery. I remember how forbidden the Lab seemed in my youth. The adults never allowed us to enter. We were never told of the Lab's purpose or what the Lab contained. So I returned later in my life to investigate; to solve the mystery; to define the undefined.
The Lab projects the appearance of a gift, one a child cannot open due to a parent's orders. The mysterious and forbidden feeling overwhelms the child. But once the gift has been opened, the wonder and beauty can be shown. The Lab reflects that essence of wonder and beauty, but one must wait for the experience. One must wait so they can be truly ready.