Forests of my Youth

Living where I do know, it is all too easy to become a terrain snob; contemptuous of the world’s more subtle forests and forgetful of how when walking outside wonder and interest is defined internally.

In my youth it was very much the opposite.  Growing up in Ohio I had to be the manufacturer of adventure, or at least see the wild potential of the woods around me in the most generous light.  When I was still young we moved to the outskirts of town, into a house with a small creek in the backyard.  That tiny waterway ran down into another creek, which ran under the bridge of the main road into town, turned left, and ran along the edge of the town proper before going off into the country.  The band of woods surrounding the creek was never more than 200 meters wide, and most often half that, but when the leaves were on the old oaks and maples left after the houses were built all civilization was hidden from view.  Just journeying down to the first confluence and back was a mind-stretching undertaking in the first years we lived there, but as I got older maturation and the cumulative memory of exploration made it possible for me to see the larger landscape as a whole, as my friends and I began to go further.  One one memorable occasion, I might have been 9, one friend and I packed water and snacks in fanny packs and took what I recall as the entire day to journey all the way down the creek to the park at the far end of town.  We knew the park well because of the excellent sledding hill there, and had explored that creek up a ways on previous outings.  Our journey was a breakthrough, tying all the fragments of years together in one vivid rush.

Mapping it out today I see that this mighty journey was perhaps two and a half miles, including a generous allowance for our wanderings along the way.  It seemed immense, and the shorter, much faster, but very tiring walk back along the one long, straight street only reinforced the magnitude of our accomplishment.

The same process continues to this day, but on a scale of several hundred miles.  The last four years of journeys in the Glacier/Bob complex have given me an ever more detailed mental map of the area, and with every month I can mentally fly the 200 miles north from Rogers Pass to the Canadian Border with greater detail. I can make a similar journey west-southwest from Moab to Zion, and then south to Prescott.  The holes here are many, but my memory is still extensive enough that I can make the journey wholely on threads of on-the-ground experience.  These halcyon moments are very fulfilling.

Complacency comes here in two ways.  The first it that familiarity makes planning what is next more comfortable, and I expand upon known places in little chunks, or revisit them in different seasons.  The second is that the litoral zones of less name-brand terrain are neglected.  I may know the country along the divide fairly well in spots, but have only made one trip through the Whitefish Range, and have never been further west than Marion.  The whole area between here and Idaho is blank to me.

Forever visiting familiar places, even if they are known only by proxy and association, leads to a smaller way of looking at the world.  So to does ignoring the little corners of the world.  I’m trying to remedy both of these, the later easily by spending time in the small corners close to our new home.  The area pictured above is a mere five miles away, logging company land open to the public.  There are inumerable roads and homogenous areas which have been recently thinned.  Last week I had to pull out my compass as twilight was coming on and following deer trails through birch swamps had got me utterly turned around.  Thinking north is south so close to home is an experience to be savored.  Beyond the excellent birch swamps, there are many wonders to be found.  Up near the foothills is the scene in the second picture, where the small brook descending out of alder and Devil’s Club thickets splits for no particular reason.  The left branch above goes north into one creek, while the right branch meanders down to the south (it is the stream in the first photo).  They both end up in the main Flathead, but take amusingly disparate paths to get there.

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2 thoughts on “Forests of my Youth

  1. I really enjoyed this reflection. Amazing the perspective we gain with life experience – yet, there’s something wonderful about the excitement and scope of adventure we experience as children!

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