My summer adventure is nearing an end. Just a few more days of ocean and trees before I return to the desert. Since yesterday’s forest hike has to last me for a while, I stayed out most of the day, following one trail after another until I reached the site of my very first hike up here. It was an odd sensation, coming out of the forest to that very spot, as if I’d spent all these weeks wandering in the trees without a break. It certainly felt like weeks, though it was only six hours uphill, downhill, along rivers and creeks, picking my way on gnarly trails, tripping over roots, feeding myriad mosquitoes. (Apparently the mosquito-repellant bracelet I wore was effective only in areas without mosquitoes.
I didn’t make it to the touristy Stout Grove as I intended — the bridge across the creek came down on the 1st of September — nor did I find the trail to a secret grove where some of the forest’s biggest and oldest trees hold court, but I did find one lovely grove of giants among giants. I would have taken a photo, but those trees were so large, all that showed up in the viewfinder was a part of the trunk.
And that grove was only one of the wonders of this final redwood journey. The trail went through a tree trunk (the photo looks like light passing between two trunks since I couldn’t step back far enough to get a photo of the single tree). The trail went under a floating forest (all sorts of trees and plants grow on fallen tree trunks, and this fallen tree never had reached the ground). It passed through a bizarrely awesome tunnel with a fallen redwood creating a 300-foot wall on one side of the trail and deciduous trees on the other side forming a canopy over head.
I saw the green of the Smith River far beneath me, and when I came out of the forest onto the riverbank, I took a photo of the forest from which I had emerged, and I find it impossible to imagine myself hiking in there, a speck compared to those gargantuan specimens. Apparently, although my mind registered what I saw, it cannot acknowledge that I was physically present.
And it is hard to acknowledge. In my mind, I am the eternal bookworm, sitting comfortably and safely, reading about other people’s adventures. In one place, the trail was nearly vertical for two or three yards, and though I know I scrambled up that bank, I don’t exactly know how I did it. Such a strange activity for a bookish woman.
All these experiences seem as hard to believe as my years of profound grief. I sometimes wonder if that woman was really me, that woman who loved a man so deeply that his death all but shattered her. Now I wonder if this intrepid woman is really me. Since neither of these traits — deeply emotional, ardently adventurous — fit with my view of my prosaic self, I suppose it’s time to reevalute my view of myself. Or not. Perhaps I really am just lounging on some cosmic couch, comfortably and safely imagining this life.
But such a vivid imagination is not something I credit myself with, either, which then means I am imagining myself imagining myself . . .
Still, however it happened, whether I believe it or find it impossible to fathom, I hiked in the woods, and I have the photos to prove it.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)