In the depths of winter, when the air stings and everything is quiet, the harsh wind and the deep snow show the world for what it truly is. When the ground turns hard and the water stops its journey southward, when there is a sheet of white across the ground and crystals hang from the trees, suddenly you can track every living thing which has passed through before. The world shrinks, the other occupants come into view, and the footsteps of others can no longer be ignored. The sharp imprints of the birds’ long legs leave shallow marks, as the thick boughs sway in the wind, dumping lumps of snow from their branches. The smallest animals can no longer hide, and the trees in their frosted beauty demand attention from the prying eyes of those who cross their path.
When the snow melts, the ground turns soft, and the plants grow once more, a feeling of forgetfulness comes over the land. The trail of the field mouse or the steps of the sly fox can no longer be seen and so are forgotten.
Each season of growth humanity finds new places to explore. With each exploration, there are fewer and fewer places in this world that have gone untouched and unaltered. Year after year humanity expands and, as we grow, we forget that progress comes at a price.
Humanity forgets that just because we can no longer see the tracks, doesn’t mean someone wasn’t something there before. When the sun warms our faces, we look at the trail ahead, forgetting until winter comes again that we also leave one behind us.
For centuries, a small group of people known as The Believers taught their children to see the land underneath them as more than a means to build something upon. For generations, they taught their children to do nothing, create nothing, destroy nothing the earth could not return to its original form. They lived alone in the depths of the oldest forests, at peace with the earth around them. Although the trees were filled with threats and danger and although the wildest animals or coldest winters could bring death—so also did nature provide life.
They lived within the forest, in balance with the systems around them. Throughout the years, their numbers grew. In return, the forest sustained them and for a time they knew its secrets. Time went on and progress came faster and faster. Every day brought new technologies and new changes, threatening the delicate balance.
Civilization was forever reaching and grasping at the hidden parts of the world. The Believers knew their time in the ancient forests was coming to an end. They left the safety of the trees, but never forgot the gifts it had given them.
Arriving in the New World, they remembered that as important as it was to build roads to cross, so too was it important to protect the rivers and streams that crossed the hills and valleys.
In the wild woods, they found untouched forests; but, they were no longer alone under the branches. Their communities grew and spread in this new country, mingling with every culture and every people who sought the safety of its shores. From the indigenous nations to wayfarers, tradesmen, and artisans, they built their secret communities will all who roamed the earth. They passed down their traditions, told their stories to every child, and urged their people not to forget the secrets of the trees.
The Believers fought for the balance between the progress of people and the protection of land that could not protect itself. More time passed, and they continued to fight against persecution. Like the indigenous people of the cursed world, their numbers began to dwindle, until they slowly disappeared into the wild woods.
Generation after generation, the desire for progress continued to win. Bustling cities grew and the forests disappeared. Still, their children were taught to fight. They fought not for the halting of progress but the balance.
Remnants of this battle remain. Spread across the country, across the world, there still exist towns immune to the increasing pressures of progress. The Believers hide in these towns, hidden at the edges of society. Though they may settle only a few hours’ drive from a metropolis that swallows the land, the people feel their connection to the earth underneath them. They live in balance with what they need from it and respect what it needs from them.
In a small town, that seemed to take a step out of time, was the small town of Kutz, Pennsylvania. A hidden kind of suburbia, not too rural and not too modern, it was a town that seemed to have simply forgotten how to progress. In Kutz—like many midwestern towns-- not everyone worked on a farm, not everyone worked in a factory, but everyone knew someone who did. It was the kind of town where you may not know everyone’s name; but, from a young age people you bump into at the grocery store somehow know yours.
Somewhere between a fear of hearing banjos and enough people to actually require city busses, the dilapidated buildings and dying businesses seemed to stand frozen in time...
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