These days most of the hikes I go on are in second-growth forests, some more mature than others but often not in America’s original forests. However, recently I went on a hike in a Pacific Northwest old-growth forest with trees 8-10’ in diameter and 200-300’ high. Dendrologists (people who study trees) believe these trees are between 350 to 750 years old, maybe even older. Let’s see… That would be the year 1673 or 1273.
In 1673, white men had just discovered the Missouri River. England was at war with the Dutch. Inventions included the telescope, the barometer, and the air pump. In 1273, Chinese forces succumbed to Kublai Khan. Europe was still in the Dark Ages. Designs for early windmills were invented and Marco Polo wrote about his journey. In the Pacific Northwest, indigenous tribes hunted, fished, and gathered berries and roots as they had done for thousands of years.
The morning air was cool and clear, like pure water from a spring, the sky edged with clouds, and everything smelled fresh. Mist rose off the little stream I crossed. The earth felt soft and spongy under my hiking boots as I walked on the path leading up to a waterfall. Every now and then a thin sliver of bright light cascaded down in front of me. Silence seemed the best way to honor such beauty.
Maybe it’s just me but I think strolling amongst these ancient trees, as insects, fungi, and amphibians hide in the deadfall, is akin to walking on hallowed ground. It’s a magical place where my imagination seems to run wild: daydreaming about different realities, mythical creatures, Utopias, dragons, or coming up with an inspirational idea.
Today, less than 4% of America’s original forests remain in existence, and as society continues to value a dead tree over a live one, it would be more than wise of me to treasure each moment I am fortunate enough to walk in these enchanted places.
The winter solstice is Thursday. The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The symbolic death and rebirth of the sun, where the gradual waning of daylight begins to grow again. Perhaps the return of the light will mark the beginning of a better year ahead. Perhaps some of those trees might live another hundred years. Let’s see… That would be 2123. I won’t be alive then. Most likely you will not be either. But those trees might… Simply amazing.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Henry David Thoreau
Enjoy the passage of time.
© 2023. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved.