In the Quiet of the Trees

I live in rolling hills that were once mountains, laid down with age to become dwindling and gentle. The valleys filled with water, deep and cold, as the glaciers receded, and left behind water that reflected the sky; giant mirrors placed on the ground.

When summer storms and humid air roll through, the tops of the hills often slip into clouds, much like they do in autumn, and I often find myself on days such as this traipsing through mud and standing water alone amongst the trees.

I love the valley and lake as much as these hills, I adore the water and how it changes its mood through each season and hearing it gently—or roughly—touch the shoreline, but my heart belongs to the hills and the trees. I feel more at home here, drifting between oak and pine, or lingering in the shade, not the edge of cliff-faces, to look down into rocky gorges. There is a fierceness to the lower land as the powerful water of stream beds work their way down into the soft stone, cutting through with time and patience to make deep scars in the land, but I find myself relating more to the birds that soar far overhead in lazy circles, cast upward by the stirring breeze of moving water and the corridor of the gorge.

The forested hills, however, are gentler and patient in their change. Autumn is filled with color, from the tallest trees where the leaves are set aflame to the forest floor where colorful mushrooms spread to produce a fairy carpet. Winter strips the woods bare, the forest floor cleared out of brush and bramble and covered in a thick coat of white snow. Springtime prepares for a tea party with the faintest paint strokes of mint green on the tips of branches and over the floor as ferns curl upward and early flowers bloom. Summers bring heat and insects, but a party tent with the thick canopy of green overhead, twinkling lights of fireflies, and the forest floor deep with greens and berries.

The trees bend to the wind, ushering in the changes of the weather, and in times like this they stand tall and still, shouldering the fog onto their bark shoulders and wearing the mist like cloaks as they await message from the western winds. Will it storm? Will the wind pick up and blow away this quiet stillness?

The birds take on lazy calls, a day of rest in the low light as leaves occasionally let drip previously gathered rain. It’s deep in the forest in moments such as these that my mind’s voice is the loudest, filling up the silence surrounding me with thoughts that I previously kept at bay. Through these walks I review our life decisions that have hung in the corners of my mind, shadows of doubt and worry, and the brightness of hopes and dreams. I can discard my fears here, I can become free from their burdens.

I have conversations with people I can no longer speak to, their lives spent and their existence surviving through memory and love of those still living. For some reason, the woods in hilly land seems to be a place where the distance grows less, and I am more easily able to be heard by them, where ever they are. Perhaps that’s why my great grandfather had been known to say that being high in the land would make you closer to God’s ear.

As I walk, I pick flowers that catch my attention, take photos of an early mushroom here or perfect leaf there. I let my mind wander to distant lands and characters that have the desire to live, so long as I hurry home to write them down with pen and paper. Stories can be found in the crevices of trees and the hollows of trunks if only you know where to look.

But a single bird softly sounds a melancholy song and I am brought to a stop, the moist earth beneath my feet sighing and my thoughts pausing. The quiet woods I saw before becomes less quiet as I stand still, allowing myself to fill with silence to notice my surroundings. There is runoff from the rain somewhere nearby, the happy dance of droplets falling over stone as the water seeks out the lower land where it will join the streams that turn into roaring waterfalls over ledges in the gorge. The tops of the trees, hidden by the fog, shift in a breeze I cannot feel here on the ground; the leaves shuffle and hush, they whisper secrets that only the trees will know. A frog lets out a throaty croak somewhere in the muddy brush and a bird cries in the distance as if to beckon the thunder that rumbles suddenly, unexpectedly, and crackles over the hills.

So, a storm it will be, the trees seem to say, and they quickly change their silent stance and begin to wave to the breeze, shaking off their foggy shrouds as the weather suddenly begins to shift and another rumble of thunder shakes the earth. It’s enough to shake me from my own quiet stance as I turn on my heel and begin to pick my way back home. The fog lifts and blows away, but the air of the woods clings to my skin and hair, a perfume of my venture ever present. The scent of the woods, of fresh air, of pine and rain, moves with me towards home, and while I intend to curl up indoors, my mind has already taken off and is flying high so it may slip through the air and embrace the expanse of sky over my beloved hills; inspired, rejuvenated, and free.

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