If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you’ll come to understand that you’re connected with everything. ~Alan Watts
The above quote describes the experience I had as I began hiking in the forests of the Western US. What a difference it’s made in my worldview! The hundreds of miles I’ve trekked among trees, boulders, rushing waters, shrubs, and wildlife have felt healing from the start, as if the forests have wrapped me in a maternal embrace.
The first forest to ever steal my heart was Carson National Forest surrounding Taos, New Mexico. I’ve spent a good bit of time in the area, taking in much of its untamed beauty. I’ll never forget a late fall hike at Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s highest mountain, looking at acres of Evergreens and Aspens in the distance with their streaks of dark green and vibrant yellow. I also have fond memories of picking piñon nuts and learning to prepare them inside their shells. The area’s forest includes Aspens, various Pines, Firs, Spruce, fragrant Sage, Rabbitbrush, and sometimes a gazillion wildflowers. Part of the Chama River runs through the forest, occasionally flanked on one side by mountains. I was, and still am, head over heels with the Carson NF area. In fact, after years of talking about my love for northern NM, friends and family were puzzled that I chose to move to Arizona instead.
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. ~John Muir
The Coconino National Forest played a key role in my selection of northern Arizona. Humphrey’s Peak, which tops out at 12,633 feet and is sometimes snow-capped for long periods, can be seen throughout much of the forest, and became iconic in my mind. Between the time I first felt at home here & the year I was able to become a resident, I missed Mt. Humphrey’s like a far-away loved one. The forest has plentiful hiking trails and encompasses the country’s largest stand of Ponderosa Pine Trees. With a climate similar to that of northern New Mexico, Aspens, Spruce, Firs, and Junipers can be found here, as well as a few ancient Bristlecone Pines and Cypress trees. Due to a great number of blooming trees and bushes, Springtime delivers an intoxicating fragrance to the air. As a bonus, the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness is part of the forest, running parallel with Oak Creek between Flagstaff and Sedona. This part of Red Rock Country is not as touristy as Sedona proper, yet its beauty could be superior.
Speaking of red rocks, southern Utah has its share inside Dixie National Forest. From the first time I explored the area, I was struck by the gorgeous contrast between the burnt red of many of its rocks and the bold greens of surrounding trees, bushes, and grasses. I’ve done quite a bit of hosteling, camping, hiking, and exploring of National Parks in and around the forest. Bryce Canyon NP’s many hoodoos are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The simple act of driving through the beauty of Zion NP is a soothing experience, and hiking is even better. Arches NP has some really unusual red rock formations, including, of course, arches! Dixie National Forest’s desert-type terrain is dotted by plants, lakes and streams.
I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That’s what I believe, and it was very, very strong in the forest. ~Jane Goodall
Further north and east lies the state of Wyoming. After my first time driving almost the entire length of the state thinking what’s all the fuss about?, I came to the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The nagging question disappeared from my mind, replaced by Oh, my . . . wow! . . . gorgeous! The area contains 7 of the world’s largest glaciers, hundreds of alpine lakes, and a number of sweeping valleys. Many headwaters can be found in the forest, including Two Ocean Creek, which is split by the Continental Divide to eventually make its way to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Grand Tetons are part of this stunning forest. Considered an adolescent range due to their age of 10 million versus the Rockies’ 50-80 million years, the Tetons have experienced much less erosion, which accounts for their jagged tops.
This post would not be complete without mention of Los Padres National Forest in California, which includes the breathtaking coast of Big Sur. This forest includes over 200 hiking trails, 100 peaks, 150 springs, and almost 300 camping areas. Impressive, huh? If you ever visit the area, you will never forget its extraordinary beauty. My first visit involved a month-long work-study program at Esalen Institute. Each morning, I walked among the trees near the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean from the boarding house to the main property, taking photos & imprinting on my soul the aesthetics of this wondrous forest by the ocean.
What an irony it is that these living beings in whose shade we sit, whose fruit we eat, whose limbs we climb . . . are so poorly understood. We need to come, as soon as possible, to a profound understanding and appreciation for trees and forests and the vital role they play, for they are among our best allies in the uncertain future that is unfolding. ~Jim Robbins, author of The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet
Forests have indeed changed my perception of myself and that of the world. I have no doubt now that I belong; I am a part of Nature, as are you. During my many hours among the trees, I have come to know a healing embrace: that of our Primal Mother.
Blessings for Forest Healing,