I was sick of people.
I was sick of their bombs. I was sick of their television, the way they ceaselessly showed the same images over and over again: the falling old man, the blood-slicked pavement.
I was sick of the way people said “We mustn’t speculate” and then speculated. I was sick of their tweets: #sad, as if an emotion wasn’t real unless we tagged it; #prayforboston, as if a prayer could put a child’s legs back on.
I was sick of people, and I wanted to get away from them. I didn’t want to see them. I didn’t want to see traces of them. I didn’t want to hear them.
So first thing Tuesday morning, I got in my car and drove to the biggest, closest swath of green that I could find on my map, Prince William Forest Park.
“I want to go somewhere where I won’t see anyone,” I told the park ranger at the visitors center. “And where I won’t hear I-95.”
She pulled out a map, unfolded it and ran a finger along a road that was marked by a red line. “Scenic Drive to Parking Lot H,” she said. “Then the High Meadows Trail. It should be empty on a Tuesday. You might hear some gunfire.”
“It’s the Marines at Quantico.”
Parking Lot H was empty when I got there and started my hike. I could hear the occasional vehicle on the road, but after just a few hundred yards, the trail curved left and dipped downhill and the sounds of the forest took over.
A tall, branchless pine, uprooted by a storm, leaned against its neighbor, embracing it 100 feet up like a drunk friend. As the wind blew, the two creaked together, groaning like a sailing ship. Higher in the canopy there was the susurration of new spring foliage rustling in the breeze.
I followed the trail’s orange blazes, listening as unseen creatures skittered through the leaves at my feet. I walked through mountain laurel and creeping cyprus and past long-dead trees that lay on their sides, their barkless branches arrayed liked bleached bones.
I heard flowing water but didn’t see it, then caught the sharp tang of an unseen skunk. Occasionally, there was the sound of a plane overhead and the sharp report of Marines firing machine guns a few miles away: a rat-a-tat-tat that sounded like a skein of firecrackers. But my only companion on Earth was an iridescent green beetle that dogged me for several minutes.
I turned west onto the South Valley Trail, trading orange blazes for white ones. When I came upon the South Fork of Quantico Creek I decided to rest, laying my backpack at my feet and sitting in the dirt near a patch of wildflowers: bloodroot and bluet.
The longer I sat, the louder the bird song got as birds spoke to one another in anger or affection. I closed my eyes to concentrate. The creek suddenly seemed very loud. After a while, I discerned that it wasn’t making just one sound, but several. It was alto, soprano and baritone, depending on how fast it was running and what it was passing over. One timbre sounded like the sustained applause of a large crowd. Another was like the slow, deliberate burble of a simmering pot. And underneath them both was a quiet whisper that I struggled to hear.
I opened my eyes. Clouds moved slowly overhead, exposing the sun every now and then. When the sunlight hit the creek, the water shimmered.
I was far from Boston. But I wasn’t far from people. How could I be? It was people who had blazed the trail I walked. It was people who had built the bridges that allowed me to ford the creek.
Yes, it was a person who set the bombs. But it was people who ran toward the smoke and the flame to help the injured. The worst people are no match for the best people.
When I returned to the visitors center I saw that during my hike someone had lowered the flag out front to half-staff.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.