This past week, we went for a stomp in the woods. We tromped around on U.S. Forest Service land north of town. Shawn carried our son the Peanut in the backpack, as usual. This was a bit different though in that we didn’t follow a trail. We followed a friend and her son as they modeled their mountain goat skills for us. Up the mountainside we went, stepping over moss-encrusted logs and crunching through a golden carpet of fallen leaves. We picked our way through brush and low-hanging branches. The Peanut had a good time being along for the ride, looking around and reaching out to grab an occasional branch or a leaf.
After walking about for half an hour, we came to a small bowl on the hillside. It was ringed with aspen trees. The late-afternoon light (which is fading earlier and earlier as winter approaches) filtered through the trees. No glow, just quiet. A bit dim. And boy did that place feel holy. The trees creaked a bit in the wind. Our friend’s son went tearing off into the bowl to climb stumps and launch himself off their rotting backsides into the air. He yelled and whooped. I listened and watched, gazing beyond his small body on its short journeys into space. There was something special about that place, something reverent. We didn’t linger long, but it’s a place I would love to return to, to sit myself down in the piles of leaves and just be. To inhabit that space for a little while, to fill it with the sound of my breath leaving my lungs. To be alive as the trees are alive. Fully present in a moment. A part of something bigger and older than my small human mind can comprehend. Too many people believe they exist outside of nature. We are just as much a part of nature and the world as the deer and the butterflies and the aspens. It is our silly belief that we are on some different plane than these creatures that truly separates us from nature.
We walked up and up and up. We came to a slight clearing where the trees parted on the edge of the hillside. Out and beyond lay the valley, blue in hue, in distance. Miles distant, the lake was a bright shimmer against the mountains that ring the other side of the valley. Not so distant stood the mountains just across the dirt highway, splattered with the autumnal gold of the larches. There’s something vaguely erotic about autumn: all of the trees except the prudish evergreens throw on their showiest colors before stripping in winter’s frosty embrace.
And then back down the hill we went, nearly tumbling forward in our momentum (OK, that was just me). I stopped to pick up a few pine cones on the way, mementos of our stomp in the woods. But we made one last stop before we departed. We walked through the almost tropical air of a cedar grove. Like the bowl above it, the cedar grove was a hallowed ground. Darker there than in the bowl, the cedar grove was also hushed. Our shoulders brushed against the soft needles of those grizzled trees capable of near millennial lifetimes. Like other creatures before us, we left only footprints and wonder. Will that ancient, sacred place remember our passing? Or in the darkening hush will we be forgotten?