Stepping into an old growth forest is like stepping from chaos into an ancient , intelligent environment of cooperation, interconnection and diverse community. Almost immediately I felt the presence of indigenous energy and wished that I had moccasins on my feet instead of bulky walking shoes, or better yet barefoot to connect directly with the earth beneath my feet.
In direct communication and connection with this generative, abundant and lush world teeming with life I crossed over the stream running under the bridge at the beginning of the trailhead and felt at home. The sound of rushing water from the rainfall the night before supported letting go into this fecund world where sacredness is embodied and the wisdom of the natural world was conveyed to every cell of my being.
The air was rich with oxygen given as gifts from the thousands of trees and plants around me. Some remnants of flowers here and there had survived the intense sun that summer can bring as the trees provided the perfect hiding place within their shade. Diversity flourished and a sense of interconnected being reached into my very cells.
As the mind became quiet, orchestrated perfectly by the ancient energies present here, I left the everyday world behind and entered a kingdom of magic and mystery…..a world that was the norm so long ago, not the exception as it is today.
I was here to celebrate 75 embodied years on earth along with three women friends who joined me….and to listen to the wisdom of the elder standing beings – the old growth trees surrounding us…..
The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a remnant of the original Appalachian forest in Western N. Carolina. It is a great example of a cove hardwood forest – a forest characterized by rich soils, abundant moisture and a variety of plants. An original forester in 1935 stated that it was one of the “very few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood in the Appalachians and should be preserved”. The forest service bought 13,055 acres in 1936 for the lofty sum of $28/acre (at a time when most land was going for $3-$4/acre).
Joyce Kilmer is managed to protect naturalness and solitude. Trails are maintained to the most primitive standards. This forest is a living memorial to Joyce Kilmer who was killed in action in WWII. Kilmer’s best known poem is “Trees” printed below:
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast.
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray.
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair.
Upon whose bosom snow has lain.
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Joyce Kilmer Memorial Old Growth Forest, N. Carolina, Photo by Margaret Rode
What did these standing elder beings convey to me as I placed my hands, and at times body, on them to intimately commune?
Each tree was uniquely different even though most of them were of the same species of tulip poplar and hundreds of years old – up to 450 years old and beyond. I have been blessed this lifetime to sense, work with, and be aware of energy patterns and flow, so the individual energy flow patterns were to me quite apparent – though at times very subtle.
The oldest trees had a grounded calm flow of rooted energy that immediately put me “in the zone”. They spoke to me of stability and the necessity of community and collaboration as we age. The younger trees held a stronger more intense active energy but uniquely different to each individual tree. Yet still, collaborative community is integral to their continued growth and thriving as is the diversity of life around them which they constantly contribute to.
BLACK COHOSH, a rich medicinal herb
The mycelia fungal root network beneath the ground is a cross kingdom web of interconnection through which the trees, plants and other living beings communicate and support each other. Just as we find that building and maintaining cooperative community is essential for our well being as humans.
Large trees like these that are hundreds of years old can send carbon, nutrients, water, hormones and even alarm signals to this underground network of fungi. These “mother tree” networks are seen to be essential in making forests around the planet better suited to survive climate change…..and hopefully pass their wisdom onto humans.
Part of that collaborative connection is held within the very air that we exchange with trees. They breathe out the oxygen we need and we breathe out the carbon dioxide they need. Sharing life sustaining elements with our DNA encoded family of trees. Miraculously the DNA molecule in plants, humans, and all living things are all the same shape — like a twisted ladder, or a double helix.
They also spoke to me of the importance of consciously integrating being still and taking time out for solitude and silence often. This is a key to their longevity….and ours. Trees can be very busy communicating, as we are when we are younger, yet what I felt in these older trees was a sense of being at peace and one with their forest community as their busy growing time to reach the sunlight was behind them and their roles were well known and innately accepted.
When their time to fall is before them my sense of the absolute surrender they have in those moments was conveyed through those that had already fallen. Knowing on a tree level of consciousness that they would feed and nourish not only the soil but many microbes and organisms as they composted their bodies into the earth. As well as providing the perfect home for insects, mushrooms and other living beings.
A time for birth, growth, learning and activity, elderhood when all quiets down and we accept our role as elders,,,,, and finally death of what was, transformed into other forms that nourish and continue the cycle.
And so I leave you walking along this trail of nature’s relatively untouched fertile bounty one sacred step at a time, through the lushness of a forest home that brings abundant gifts, wisdom and peace…..Gaye Abbott
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Gaye Abbott, Wildly Free Elder, 07/14/23