I spent some time with 500-year-olds last week. I'm beginning to visit various grounds for my next book, which has as its focus our relationship with the ground at our feet. So, last week, I flew out to Seattle, rented a car, and drove down to Oregon. I spent Thursday in Portland, visiting with folks who are helping to make that city as green as possible. And then on Friday, I got out into some original green.
I went to the Andrews Experimental Forest about 90 minutes outside Corvallis with Fred Swanson, a retired Forest Service scientist. We were just about the only humans for miles around, and the forest was filled with tall trees and fog. I took along my new camera, so here's the first photo, of Fred among some giants.
Keep in mind that Fred is about 6'5".
When the sun came out, things got even more beautiful.
One of the special features of the Andrews is that it is home to long-term research projects. These are projects designed to last longer than the researchers who start them. Fred took me to a small clearing under 500-year-old trees, and lying around us were logs in various stages of decay. Here is a 200-year-project--the scientist who started it is soon to retire--focused on how these ancient trees decay back into the ground.
Sorry this photo is a little blurry.
On Thursday, I'd met a stormwater specialist in downtown Portland under a freeway. And the level of noise from the freeway, and the freight train going by, and the monstrous trucks rumbling past, made it difficult to hold a conversation, let alone a thought. And then, the next day, I stood under 500-year-old Douglas Firs, with quiet and fog all around, and thoughts coming one after the other.
It was cold enough that I thought I could see my breath once or twice, but no, this was just the fog, as though I was seeing the ground breathe, the breath rising around me.
It's hard to stand among these trees and imagine cutting them down. Fred and I agreed that the decision to cut trees like these were almost certainly never made while standing among them, but instead were made in board rooms far from here.
It's a remarkable ground, the ground that holds these ancient trees, the ground welcoming the decaying trees back into the earth. It's spongy, as though you're walking on a foam mattress almost. I want to learn more about it.
I want to go back and wander among these trees, those towering now and those that once were. I want to take my shoes off and walk the ground that holds them. I want to feel what it's like to stand, here, as they do, and think about time--the moment, the past, the future when everything standing has fallen.