Robert Frost knew about the woods being dark and deep. He watched on that winter night as the woods filled up with snow, and the wonder of silence and beauty combined to inspire his poem.
I am not sitting in a sleigh pulled by a chilly horse, and it is not snowing. In fact, it isn’t even raining (something of a disappointment for a visiting San Diegan). Instead, I’m inside my friend’s comfortable house that sits in the middle of tall trees and forest. Not exactly dark and deep, but the sense of forest obtains outside the big windows of the kitchen. This is woods enough for now.
When I talked about this road trip that would take me from the southernmost part of the US to the northernmost, a number of friends wondered why I wouldn’t just fly there. A couple of them thought I was nuts. The object of coming to Bellingham, Washington, is a writers conference, and Alaska Airlines has a number of daily flights from San Diego to Seattle, and easy connections to Bellingham. Why drive some 1300 miles, they asked. Such a long trip alone. And the traffic!
I confess that I did have some second thoughts, daunted by the prospect of long hours in the car, but I broke up the trip into do-able parts, none of which was more than 500 miles (that was the longest to Monterey), and most were around 300 miles in any given segment. I also have to say that not all of the driving has been wonderful, but once I got to the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon, all doubts entirely disappeared. Here I was in some of the most beautiful scenery in the US, surrounded by heavily wooded hills and mountains, full-flowing rivers, and on a road that took me comfortably through wilderness.
San Diego is my home and I wouldn’t live anywhere else, but I have to get away from time to time, just to see real forests. Palm trees don’t constitute forests, and neither do stands of eucalyptus. I need to smell tall trees, redwoods and alder, and watch them grow among beds of ferns and green bushes. My nearby mini-fix from San Diego is to drive an hour up to Julian where apple trees, scrub oak, and manzanita provide temporary relief from my tree deprivation.
I have two stops from here next weekend that will land me on the Russian River and near the Armstrong Forest. In the 19th century, much of that river valley was clear-cut (completely forested; every redwood cut down), but the Armstrong woods was spared. It stands today as a picture of how the dark and deep forests must have looked for thousands of square miles along the California coast, but also a sad reminder of our penchant for destruction. You enter it with a kind of reverence as if coming through the doors of a great cathedr
al. Its giant trees confidently reach toward the light, inspiring quiet and calm, and the forest floor, now soft with fallen leaves, exudes an odor of renewing life. The air is cleaner, there is more oxygen, and you feel healthier and at one with everything that is quietly but busily growing there.
To my mind, painters don’t paint it well any more than I can describe it well. It’s one of those things in creation that has to be experienced and embraced and extolled inside by anyone who comes to the forest. The experience leaves its mark on your soul, and its wordless lessons spring to your mind, offering a deeper understanding of life and life’s cycle, and a clearer sense of meaning and existence that is heartening, and that is less dark.
Robert Heylmun 26 June 2014