November 12, 2011

Cathedral of Trees

I'm blessed to live in a town with an abundance of green space where people walk, hike, relax, reflect or, in my case, run. I took advantage of a recent near-70-degree day to run to and through the Clifford G. Grant Management Area, 320 wooded acres that include a parcel we call Town Forest. Most of Town Forest's trails are narrow, winding and strewn with rocks, roots and other natural hazards (plus intermittent beer cans tossed by town teens) that require runners to look down and assess the ground before planting a footfall. (Indeed, I relaxed my concentration for a second last spring, caught a root, and earned an ankle sprain and broken foot that kept me out of the forest -- and my running shoes -- for five months.)

But there's one stretch of forest path that's wide, straight and blanketed not in boulders and beer cans but in springy pine needles that caress the feet and cushion the quads. And it's a stretch that makes you look up, up to the tops of the magnificent pine trees that line this magical alley. I call this place the Cathedral of Trees, and every time I come to it I stop running for a minute or two to take in its quiet beauty, breathtaking in any weather, season or time of day.

On my recent 70-degree-day run, after I'd entered the Cathedral of Trees and paused to contemplate shafts of sunlight piercing the pine canopy and illuminating the forest floor, I resumed running atop the soft carpet of needles. Suddenly my bounce was mirrored by a deer that leaped out of the forest onto the path in front of me. The buck had an adolescent rack that caught the sun as the animal sprang into the growth on the other side of the path. I stopped and watched him weave through the woods, come to a standstill about 50 feet from me, and turn his head to stare at me. He kept his body pointed away from me, in escape-ready mode, but moved his head to keep me in his sights as I slowly ran past him.

Thick streams of sun, transformed into color by the forest's fall foliage, washed over him, turning his gray-beige skin and antlers still covered in a young buck's velvet to a soothing shade of slate blue.

I was struck by the hue because it was so similar to that of a photograph of the Cathedral of Trees (above) my friend George had recently sent me. It was as if the deer had stopped in that light-drenched spot knowing he'd be turned that color. The blue made him part of the forest and the forest part of him, but his staying still to let me gaze at him made me part of the forest, too. We can both worship here in our cathedral was the message I ran away with.

Photo credit: George Farrell