Every forest has its own feel.
In Idaho's West Central Mountains, up high, the trees are mostly lean and stunted evergreens interspersed with the silvered trunks and limbs of trees burned by wildfires years ago.
|Maia and Meadow enjoying a field of lupine on the way to Coffee Cup Lake, Idaho (2008).|
Occasionally one's eye is teased with the contrast of aspen - white bark, leaves almost neon green in spring and gorgeous yellow-orange in autumn.
There's little undergrowth other than wildflowers, so light filters easily through the trees, allowing one to see far vistas. Running trails in Idaho always feels light, almost breezy; rather than focusing on your next step, you can look up and take in the scenery.
Here in Washington, on Cougar Mountain most of the trees are deciduous so following the seasons is easy. The sense of openness changes as the leaves bud out in spring, filling in the canopy with green and offering shade, or falling to the ground in autumn, allowing the low winter sun to penetrate.
|Meadow - doing her best imitation of a boy dog peeing - on Cougar Mtn in May 2009.|
On Tiger Mountain, the evergreens are big, and old, providing a high thick canopy filtering whatever sun dares to penetrate. The undergrowth of ferns, salal and Oregon grape is dense and waist high. At eye level for me - tree trunks. For Finn: shrubs.When I run there, the term that often comes to mind: primeval.
|Finn in the dark forest of Tiger Mountain.|
|An old maple, split near the base & covered in moss.|
The few maples on Tiger find themselves struggling for light, and are often clothed in moss from the constant dampness. Finn also frequently gets damp, and brings some of the mud and damp home.
|Finn collecting mud on Tiger.|
When I run alone - with just Finn for company, no people - I tend to head to the darkness of Tiger. Something about all the mud, tree roots and rocks, streams, fallen logs...forces me to pay attention to every foot placement, distracting me from life's troubles, making me feel like a kid again, free from stress and worry. I watch Finn dart after birds flitting through the Oregon grape, or chase a squirrel up a tree trunk, and laugh out loud. "You're a goof, Finn!" I tell him. There's something more elemental, more basic and real, about running through a dark, thick forest.
|Enter if you dare....|
On Tiger, virtually all trails are off limits to mountain bikes and horses, a restriction made obvious by these gates. The gates also seem to be a final barrier between light and dark, between open space and the primeval forest beyond.
Finn's always ready to enter. So am I.
We'll keep exploring forests - dense or sparse, dark or light, high elevation or low, dry or muddy. It's all good.
Perhaps those are some of the most valuable lessons all three of my dogs have taught me. Explore it all. Take it in, revel and play in it, regardless of season or conditions.
Karma! Shortly after posting this entry, I picked up the latest issue of The Sun, one of my favorite literary magazines. They have a regular feature called The Dog-Eared Page - "...works that have deepened and broadened our understanding of the human condition." (I don't think they catch the wonderful irony of the reference to dog ears coupled with deepening and broadening the understanding of humans, but I do.) In this January 2012 issue, they've selected something from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, published in 1962, a book I read as a freshman in college, in Environmental Studies 101. Carson was instrumental in getting us to think about our environment, to protect it. Here's an excerpt from The Sun's excerpt, which explains well my feelings about venturing into the forest on a regular basis:
If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last through life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength....
What is the value of preserving and strengthening this sense of awe and wonder, this recognition of something beyond the boundaries of human existence? Is the exploration of the natural world just a pleasant way to pass the golden hours of childhood or is there something deeper?
I am sure there is something much deeper, something lasting and significant. Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations or concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature - the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.
Get out and contemplate the beauty of nature. And take your dog.