I enter the woods from a hidden path, which winds around a corner and out of sight. The trail wants to disappear as soon as possible, away from the train tracks and the cars and the busy roads, into the cool, verdant shelter of the trees. I do too. I slip into the trees, unnoticed by other travelers who are zooming from suburb to suburb, consumed in their own material worlds.
We both breathe a sigh of relief, the trail and I, as we begin to breathe newly circulated air and let the sounds and sights of the forest transport us into a new world:
In our world, drizzle falls soft and springlike from a powder grey sky and sunshine is not far behind. I can see it glowing, sure to break through, ready to jump out and surprise us in its playful way.
In our world, ducks have left behind green footprints that grow stems and roots and flowers, immortalized imprints of their webbed feet growing out of the soil.
In our world, fairy folk bands gather under trees, an upright bass with its curled head, guitars strung with spider’s silk, and bongos struck with each falling raindrop.
In our world, when the fairies play, a Pacific Wren trills along. It offers the most intricate of accompaniment. Only when we slow it down do we begin to really hear it. But in our world, we can sing along.
In our world, each Oregon Grape becomes a place to stash treasures before its own berries weigh it down. Each leaf is its own shelf, but watch out! If the treasure isn’t yours for the taking, those spikes will hurt!
In our world, the Vine Maple unfurls at the smallest rate. It seems to be the most reluctant of shrubs to leaf out, last to the party. I even see the tiniest of saplings peeking out under the shadow of its much larger kinsman. Its miniature leaves almost touch the ground- is this only its first season? “Hello,” it seems to say with all nine lobes- “I’m v-i-n-e-m-a-p-l-e!”
In our world, a Chickadee calls out its name, too. I say my name back, in my own sing-song way.
In our world, Skunk Cabbage makes itself known from around the corner. One thin tendril of its scent finds me, unawares- pungent, earthy, fit only for flies used to such a stink.
In our world, tadpoles lurk nearby, enjoying wet pools dotted with falling raindrops. Food? Food? Soon they will shed their tails, deciding that legs are better fit for hopping away.
In this world, the trail’s and mine, even the manmade becomes one with Nature, drawn to its protection, its mossy softness. Here in our world, Man and Nature commune, merge, meld, and make their peace.
Even so, even as I slowly walk along this trail, in this park, in a suburb nearby my home, I know there is much I don’t see. I can only be transported so far. I walk just above mysteries I will never understand and walk below wonders I don’t notice. Just a few feet away, there may be a flower unfurling that no human will ever see. Or a Brown Creeper building its nest, expertly camouflaged against dark wood. But this satisfies me more than any of the bursting life I do see all around me- the unknown. The unknown that is prospering, thriving, and flourishing all around me is the best part.