I blazed a trail Monday, a few days after my 62nd birthday. It’s a project that’s been patiently hanging out on my fantasy list. When I got up Monday, I said to myself, “This is the day!” Sometimes it’s just that clear.
The trail replaces one my friend and I built when we were in junior high, connecting my horse’s little barn to the trail into the woods from her horse’s barn. We joined up at the intersection with Scout and Shadow on long summer days; and when we walked home up the hill through the woods from the bus stop, we separated there. That trail was obliterated when the area was logged 25 or so years ago. (That’s what Mama said, though I think it was allowed to grow over before that, after evidence of a trespasser was found in the barn. The resident storycatcher alters her telling from time-to-time.)
At the edge of the meadow I hack through the prized trailing blackberry and salal thicket, bound with its fair share of sticky catchweed bedstraw, with my dad’s old sickle. (I have not located the long-handled scythe, and I can’t get the ancient weed eater started. It’s too heavy, anyway, and probably wouldn’t get through the bramble.) Out of the underbrush I pull two decades of blow-down from the firs and maples. Once I reach the tree canopy the ground cover is less dense, and it’s cooler.
Always looking for the clearest route with the most solid ground, the loppers and I cut our way through the vine maple understory that grows in whatever direction it wants and reroots where it bends back down to the ground. The fallen branches are larger here—perhaps left to lie from the logging operation—and there are rotting roots from trees in absentia to tug up from mossy graves and pull out of the way.
Two downed logs can’t be gotten around; trail walkers will have to step over the first smaller one—with its thick moss blanket—and then clamber over a fallen giant. I recall one of our trees was knocked down when a misdirected cash crop tree fell into it—or something like that; I figure this is she. I pause in my work to sit on her and toast her long forest life with my water bottle. Perhaps someday I will clear the branches that hang above her so grandchildren can walk down her long moss-covered torso. A chainsaw could bisect her, but there has been enough violence on these magnificent trees, of which few remain in this section of the hill.
Equidistant from the ends of my trail is a fairy circle of open canopy. Sunlight dapples the mossy forest floor at the corner of the former clearcut—beams of light streaming through the tall “new” trees. Other than scraggly Oregon grape and salal and abundant sword fern, along with the ever-present vine maple, the floor of the logged swath is relatively barren. A large sword fern that’s growing in my chosen path must be cut down, I can’t get around it. I uncover an enormous banana slug cowering under it—the only wildlife I see as I work. Although I’ve taken to unspeakable murder of those I find in my garden munching on lettuce, I leave this one to live out its slimy life in the forest.
This open area has always been here—my little sister played in it, calling it her fairy land. And then came the conquering loggers. Now, long-dead Himalayan blackberry canes that sprang up in the cleared forest hang from the trees and litter the forest floor like bleached skeletons in a killing field, their wicked thorns not one bit softened with time. Pulling dozens of them out of the way, thankful there are no live vines, I toss them on the bone piles. I cut down invasive non-native holly and the alder saplings and throw them on the litter, too. Only the tops of the firs, up in the light, are green. Stubby dead branches, stripped of bark and needles, poke out in all directions, as if protecting the fairy castle from intruders. Sawing or breaking them off, they too are tossed aside. These woods will never be pristine: it lives the wild life, subject to the whims of nature and weather…and humans.
Three or four times, I go back to the meadow and over to the main trail behind the neighbor’s house, walking down it to the point where I want the new trail to emerge—as near as I can tell to where the original trail came out: by the mammoth multi-trunk big-leaf maple, though nothing else on this new trail is familiar. I crash my way through the uncharted territory looking for the path of least resistance to connect with my new trail and then turn around and, with my tools, begin whacking my way through again; always trying to keep in mind where I am headed. Eyes on the prize.
Finally, because the understory and ground cover are dense again and I can’t see ahead, I return to the main trail, and work backward. I’m euphoric when the ends meet—almost as if I engineered it with surveying tools (of which there are some in my dad’s shop; I wish I had asked him how to use them, rather than merely holding the pole while he peered through the thingamajig).
Life. It wends and it’s messy. It’s often uncharted and full of obstacles. We look ahead to the extent we can and just keep moving. Whenever possible we must remember to sit down and contemplate the beauty of the Creation and our place in it. That is the prize.
Five hours later, my meandering trail connects barn with main trail. I am 62 and proud—and exhausted. I vow to walk the trail daily to establish it; I hope the deer will adopt it and help keep it open. Our rituals will forge a once-again-familiar path through this wilderness. And perhaps the fairies will dance once more.