The forest is still, quiet, and moist, leaves glistening with the wetness of winter. Three hikers step softly along the path, their boots plodding gently through the fallen leaves. Feet fall into puddles, causing small splashes to overflow from the edges of the mud that contains them.
Mist rises slowly from among the trees- secrets of the dawn floating to the sky to forever be hidden. The winged insects have already made their winter beds. They miss out on these hidden signs. A small Winter Wren rustles among the Oregon Grape, fluttering the leaves. As the hikers pass, it is distracted, flitting with alarm into the air and disappearing into the grey overcast sky. What is beyond the skeleton of tree branches? Where does the forest end and the city begin? The hikers can only wonder, their view obscured by high ridges and thick mist. Their city lies below, in wait, a place of bustling commerce which is now hidden. The only clue of its presence is a distant groan of Highway 30 below.
As boots squelch out a rhythm in the mud, small ferns perk up and begin to bob to and fro with the song. Licorice Ferns spring up from the soft, forgiving moss, digging their rhizomes deep into the mossy substrate. They layer on top of each other like shingles on Maple Trees thick with moss, piled high like the princess’ bed. Can you find the pea beneath all that softness? The ferns’ leafy fronds are delicate and green, growing steadily despite the winter light. The hikers spot them at every turn. Every tree. Every trail. An explosion of ferns.
As the morning wears on and the rhythmic boot steps continue, the orchestra of the forest awakens: scolding wren, dripping branches, rushing creek, rising mist. Droplets of vapor elatedly evaporate with the weak emergence of a persistent sun. Ray by ray, streaming in between skeletal limbs, peeking over the naked ridge line like an evening lamp, the sun makes its appearance. Each ray of sunlight is visible through the misty morning, rays becoming droplets of light as they join hands with dissipating fog.
The forest glows in its sodden sparseness, pale lichens and virescent mosses taking center stage, as bright leaves are now a phenomenon of memory. Light is uninhibited by foliage and now shoots straight through each tree’s branches, illuminating each living thing in its winter beauty, from glistening raindrops to the russet darkness of a decomposing log piled high with moss.