The air is clean and bright in the north woods. And the only sounds I hear are the wind blowing through the tall pine trees, the raven’s hoarse “Caw,” streams of water burbling over rocks, and the sound of my boots on the trail.
Sometimes it seems that the only things that exist are rocks, trees, water, and air. The bones of the land lie close to the surface. Tree roots cling to rocks for support. Water gurgles in small streams liberated by the spring sunlight.
“I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens…air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.”
― Richard Nelson,
The trails I hike on aren’t the tame trails of the parks and reserves around the Twin Cities, where I live. These north woods trails are full of boulders, crossed with downed trees, climbing steep boulder-strewn slopes, dropping down-slope again just as rapidly, slogging through wet areas and small streams—over, around, up, down, and through. Tall red and white pines tower overhead, their roots drawing sharp lines on the surface of ever-present rocks. Birch, aspen, balsam, and jack pine each have their own niche in the landscape.
Life and death are present everywhere. Seedlings struggle to put down roots and grow in the thin soil created by lichens and moss that cover dying and downed tree trunks—digesting dying life to create new life. The bloody carcass of a deer beside the road feeds a flock of ravens. A blow-down late last summer created a tangle of tree trunks—red pine and jack pine, birch and aspen—that loom on both sides of the trail I hike. It looks like a giant bulldozer plowed through the landscape. Heavy snowfall during the winter left bent-over white pine trees on a slope beside the trail. Life must be strong to survive in the north woods.
Meanwhile the only sounds I hear are sounds of nature, the only creatures I meet wild ones. Each hike I take in the north woods fills me with wonder and delight. Every ounce of effort that I make to hike these challenging trails is paid back with wild grace and beauty.
I experience such blessed breathing room on these wild trails.
Where do you find breathing room in your life?
May you walk in beauty.