July 15, 2004.
One look in the pantry and a few minutes later in the feed shed yesterday had made it perfectly clear that the first place I was going after lunch was to town before we ran out of food completely. But this morning dawned clear and cool; and I hurried through breakfast and putting out feed in the feeders across the clearing. Stuffing some cold roast, cheese, bread, and water bottles in my backpack I closed the front door behind me with a greater anticipation than I had felt in a long time. Wolf bounded down the stairs; and started toward the pond. But instead of following the familiar trail, I turned toward the woods behind the cabin.
"Not this time, Wolf," I called to him as I started walking in a direction that I thought would eventually take me to the substation at the corner of the property. "We're going this way today." The woods close to the cabin were fairly clear of underbrush; and soon I came to a trail that ran more or less in the direction I wanted to go.
"Pay attention, guys," I said to everyone in general. "I've never been this way before."
The early morning sun slanting through the trees made it fairly easy to keep going in the direction I thought would bring me to the substation; but the trail took advantage of the easiest going and often ran any direction except the one I wanted to go in. We hadn't gone very far before I noticed that the trees were almost entirely ancient oaks, so old and tall that almost nothing grew below them. Were it not for the bare earth instead of last season's leaves, there would have been nothing to mark the trail at all. There was almost a cathedral like feeling below them; and the sunlight no longer showed me the direction I wanted to go. I paused; and turned around in a circle. There was nothing to distinguish one direction from another. It would be very easy to get lost in here I thought. Eventually we reached a high point; and began slowly descending again. By then I wasn't sure what direction we were going in; and I was becoming concerned.
Eventually we descended into a valley; and the trees changed again and became choked with undergrowth before finally opening out into a large grass covered area cut by a stream. Glad to be out in the sun again, I was surprised at how high the sun was. Looking at my watch for confirmation, I saw it was almost noon. We had spent a couple of hours on this walk already; and at mid day I had nothing to tell me which direction I was going in.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all," I said. Katt and Mama agreed; and Wolf started toward the stream to get a drink.
"At least we've got a creek to follow toward the river after lunch, so we'll be okay. We just won't get where I wanted to go today."
Jul 18, 2004.
Two more days of tramping around in the forest of ancient oaks still hadn't given me any real idea of how large it was except that it was large enough to get lost in if I wasn't careful. It was good to have my companions with me because they had a much better sense of direction than I did among these ancient trees. Their canopy was so high and dense that only a muted light penetrated to the forest floor. This was not a dappled shade like I was accustomed to; rather it was an even, diffused light like that which found its way through the draperies in a closed room.
Moss and lichen grew thick on the boulders and protruding slabs of rock that were everywhere. Like the trees, these rocks and slabs were huge, some towering over me by several feet. Here and there the remains of even more ancient trees who had fallen were slowly returning to the soil from which they had sprung. There was no underbrush; but there was an abundance of ferns and flowers for which I had no names in the pockets of rich soil between the rocks and trees. There were bees to pollinate the flowers, but almost no wildlife. At least the flashes of color and the calls of the birds I was accustomed to were absent as were the rustlings of mice and such in the thick carpet of leaves. There was no breeze. Rather the air movement seemed more like the slow, deep breathing of a giant pair of lungs.
There was a feeling of peace and agelessness and unreality among these giants. It was almost impossible to judge distances. I could readily imagine fairies and elves living among the ferns and flowers, or maybe even unicorns clambering over the rocks and munching on the moss and lichen. Occasional flashes of movement caught out of the corner of my eye but never there when I turned to look only increased that imagining. Ghosts? Spirits?
We had walked every trail within this forest; and, unlike the trails outside the forest, none of these led to anything man-made. I was sure of this because I had set small stones in a star pattern at the beginning and end of every trail I had walked; and finally every trail I came to was marked. If there were any more trails, they did not cross any that we had already walked. We had come out of the forest in three familiar places and three places I didn't recognize. Two of the new places were in the grassy valley that I had found the first day; and we were close to the one where a spring bubbled up out of the rocks and trickled away toward the stream. Wolf was tired and hungry again, Mama and Katt wanted a nap, and I wouldn't mind lunch and a nap either. It was time for a break.
Soon we reached the spring. Just beyond the next curve in the trail the tree species would begin to change, the underbrush would begin to grow thicker and thicker, and then the trail would open out onto the valley. But here we were still within the spell of the oak forest; and all was cool and quiet and peaceful. We walked the few feet that the spring was off the trail, drank deeply of the cold water, shared our food, and settled down to rest. The spring made a very slight bubbling sound; and we were all soon asleep.
Jul 19, 2004.
After I finished my morning chores, we headed out again. This time I went straight to the spring. After the dreams I had had there yesterday I wanted to look for some indication that The People had had more to do with the spring than just drinking from it. My dreams had been of ancient times; but, unlike the dreams I had in The Grove, these were dreams of everyday life. They had been dreams of hunting and fishing and of clearing and planting.
I stopped where the trail led past the spring; and just looked around. Soon I saw a stone that didn't look quite natural; and then I saw another one. Soon I had found a complete circle of stones around the spring. They were closer to the back of the spring, leaving a wider area in front of it. Unlike the fire pit in the grove or the altar, the spring was a part of its circle but not the center of it. As I walked toward the closest stone, I could see that it had been hewn out of guardian stone; but had not been colonized by the lichen. All of these stones were smaller and more rounded than the stones that lined the path to the altar; and their shape blended in with the natural stone around them. They were set closer together, as if to form some sort of protection instead of just defining a path. My curiosity satisfied for the moment, we drank from the spring before following the trail out into the valley.
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