The forest is a beautiful, quiet place—a huge sheltered room in an otherwise wide open world. Towering walls of scaly gray-brown tree trunks shoot far up into the sky, supporting its lofty vaulted ceiling. An occasional creek meanders serenely through, carrying both water and a fresh coolness throughout the entire valley. A thick carpet of multi-shaded dry brown leaves forms as the ceiling is continually recreated, the old ceiling falling slowly away to the ground.
As I step over a short cross-tie fence and walk across the narrow chip-and-seal road, I enter into a small un-cut field, rough with the dry stalks of dead grass and weeds. The sun, low in the western sky, slants its sharp dazzling rays deep into my eyes, the dense forest appearing impenetrably dark in contrast to the intense brilliance of the sunlight. Making my way towards the woods, the distant tree line slowly becomes taller; in a shadow now, I can just begin to see into the thick darkness of the forest. Open sky quickly gives way to thick foliage. I find myself immersed in a dense forest, deep blue sky replaced with an equally beautiful leafy canopy; sunlight dances on the lush green treetops above, highlighting a group of leaves here and there, transforming them from the usual rich dark green to an illuminated, radiant light source. A gentle breeze lazily pushes the towering treetops, dreamily swaying in the cool breeze, their sprawling leaf-covered branches reaching far up into the deep blue sky, cutting through the sunlight, creating erratic ever-changing patterns of light on the forest floor.
I walk on, beginning my descent from the wide ridge of land into a small valley below, the trail winding carefully down the steep slope, weaving in and out between trees standing tall and unmoved on either side, holding themselves powerfully upright, the ground slanting sharply beneath them. I hear the rocks grinding against each other under the soles of my boots as I try not to slide on the steep rocky trail, dry leaves of oak, poplar, and hickory rhythmically crunching under my step. Just up ahead, a huge white oak forks just after coming up through the ground, spreading its arms far out in either direction.
As the slope levels out in the bottom of the valley, the trail forks into two separate paths, thick with dry curling hickory leaves—a vast array of colors forming an incredibly intricate multi-dimensional pattern. A spider web, caught by a shaft of golden sunlight, sways slowly in the soft breeze, its tiny threads at once reflecting all the intensity of the sun’s rays. I turn to the west and continue along as the trail slowly winds its way through the narrow valley, leading past countless tree trunks through the ever-changing scene. Around another bend, the path dips down into a small creek, shimmering like glass in the patchy sunlight, the shallow water making a soft gurgling sound as it flows slowly over the uneven bed of jagged rocks. I can almost smell the cool freshness of the evening air settling in the valley.
Walking through the forest, I am reminded of how we make our way through life—a rocky path, the ups and downs, an occasional hard climb, the delight of a cool breeze by a gentle stream, the tremendous beauty that perpetually surrounds us, and how we can so often overlook this incredible beauty unless we take the time to look for it.
Stopping suddenly, I find myself back at the fork in the path. I climb back up the steep rocky trail, back out into the small field—emerging once more to the open sky, the swiftly lowering sun casting its last rays high into the evening sky, colliding with a cloud here and there, billowing white pillows miles up, their ripples masterfully highlighted with rich golden light. The sheltered room of the forest abandoned once more for the wide open world, I walk back across the narrow chip-and-seal road, step over the short cross-tie fence, back to the place where I began.