Lunch Break

Rest Stop Stories Episode 10: Lunch Break

Time passes differently in the forest.

When you started working here, you didn’t know why a corporate headquarters would be built this close to deep, unending forest. The employee picnic tables and the occasional dropped memo seem so out of place at the line where ivy curls into the darkness. But today, a week into your new job, you’re grateful for it.

You aren’t hungry. The lunch you packed is long gone, eaten almost unconsciously as you tried to untangle the latest problem at your desk this morning. Four hours in, you are no closer to a solution than you were when you sat down. So it’s time for a long walk to settle your brain and let it chew over the possibilities in a new environment.  

There’s no cell phone service in the woods. There’s barely cell phone service in the parking lot, if you’re being honest. Your lunch break lasts for one hour today, so you set yourself a timer and slide your phone into your pocket.

You go into the woods to escape the problem. It’s a simple problem, to be honest. The kind of problem you can leave on your desk at the end of the day. But the end of the workday is still four hours away and you need to get this problem untangled or you’ll spend the rest of the day with it gnawing at your mind. As you step in among the sun dappled trees and breathe in the cool, pine-touched air, you can feel your mind already settling. 

A deeper walk will be good.

The sun seems to be coming from behind you as you walk along the worn path, warming your back while a cool breeze caresses your face. It’s late spring, the blossoms have already fallen to reveal deep green leaves hanging heavily all around you. 

You push aside bushes and branches to stay on the path, barely noticing the land around you as your mind drifts back to the problem at work. Could you move some money over from another account? Push the payment off a couple days? There is ivy creeping up the trunk of the tree in front of you, the sunlight barely hitting it from above you.

The sun is blocked as you step off the path, just a little ways. There’s a thicket of trees just to the side and it seems like a comfortable place to sit and reflect for a moment. You’ve still got thirty minutes until you need to be back at your desk and you hate to admit it, but you’re a little winded right now. 

Bloated mushrooms crowd along the base a large stump in the thicket. They smell of rot, but almost in a clean way you’ve never considered before. Decay and darkness, but all of it natural.  You wonder briefly how long it’s been since the tree itself fell.

Your mind wanders for a bit as you sit in the darkened thicket. There’s still sunlight, but barely penetrates the canopy above you. Eventually with a start you realize you have solved the problem. And are about to be late getting back to work.

It’s a simple solution, you think to yourself as you walk the small ways back to the path. Just moving a few numbers around on a spreadsheet. You can have it done within twenty minutes when you get back to your desk. 

You almost feel silly that you didn’t think of it before. But you understand that sometimes the brain just needs a break in order to see what’s in front of it.

The path still looks the same, like no time passed at all. The leaves on the ground, final remnants of last fall’s glory, lay in the same spots, untouched by the breezes that have played through the trees through your lunch break. You barely notice them as you walk back.

But as you reach the edge of the woods, you pause. When you walked into the forest, you clearly remember passing several picnic tables, a company memo littered by the trash cans, and a beat up Elantra parked on the far end of the lot. But you’ve reached the end of the path and none of those things are there. It’s just more trees. If it weren’t for the rusted pole you know held a streetlight this morning, you might think you took a wrong turn.

You did not.

Trembling, you step past the pole and focus your gaze on a stone foundation before you. It’s large and weathered, like the stone walls that crisscross the region. But it’s clearly stone and it’s clearly from a corporate headquarters that was strangely built on the edge of a thick forest.

You turn and make your way back toward the trees. Those haven’t changed. The emerald canopy still drifts in the wind, a vision of security. But as you walk back past the ivy, you think about how you shouldn’t have been surprised.

After all, time passes differently in the forest.