My son and I went walking in the woods this afternoon, and the moment we stepped foot on the path the rain started — threatening all day but all day distant — and thunder hailed out across the treetops in its always unexpected bass drum boom. Nevertheless, beneath that high canopy of Bigleaf Maples where ferns grow all the way up the trunk to the topmost and windiest branches, we felt safe and insignificant, sheltered in mossy underbrush. And mostly dry.
There are a few old-growth firs in the park, and every time I see one I can't help but think that these trees somehow survived logging, decades before current logging practices which allow for a less dramatic clearcut. These trees began their lives well before the influx of white settlers, when everything I know as urban was wilderness. It's a good brain exercise, I think, to try to envision this different landscape, minus pavement and parking lots and the drone of lawn mowers and I could go on for paragraphs but won't.
I kept stopping to look at the ferns. In spite of the very dry summer we've had, they appeared lush and hale, growing laterally on nearly every tree. R. point some out in a high notch of a maple.
And then just as quickly as the rain began, the sun appeared, sending long rays like outstretched arms down onto the damp forest floor. It seemed as if everything respired — treestumps and loam and thimbleberries and alders, woodpecker-gutted snags, wild outcroppings of orange and pink fungus. This was no place of inactivity. Despite the relative post-thunder calm, the forest was very much at work doing what it has always done: the work of decomposition, of regeneration, all at once and always. In all ways.
A hundred years ago a person could make a home from the stump of a logged fir, live out his or her years cozy and snug in the hollowed trunk, with the addition of a modest roof. There's a small clearing on my woods-path where for years I've wanted to camp, for just one night, but of course that would be against the City of Seattle Municipal Code.
Maybe tonight I'll hear an owl from my treetop-level attic bedroom, a half mile from the park, where I'll sleep legally. Small consolation, when what I really want is an entire forest for my bedroom, decorated with sword ferns, floor to ceiling.