Cedar forests are fascinating little ecosystems. At least, they are to those of us who are interested in such things.
Because so little light can penetrate through its evergreen canopy, the air underneath remains close and damp. The soil, rich but acidic, proves inhospitable except for the odd fern and several dozens mushroom varieties which look up at me owlishly from beneath impossibly wide-brimmed hats. These are remarkable little organism with an embarrassingly haphazard mode of reproduction – minuscule seeds, called spores, will either take to the wind or hitch a ride on the back of some small, unsuspecting mammal to the next fungi-friendly area.
I stop in front of a tiny stream which trickles down from some unknown reservoir. Where the dense carpet above does break, sunlight streams through to create prismatic island’s of aster and jewel-weed whose scents mingle together, infusing the air with their own peculiar contribution to autumn. I stand in this place for several moments, breathing in the heady scents – that is until a pedestrian with a chocolate-brown Labrador emerge from a dense thicket nearby.
A brief moment passes where I consider assuming ‘mid-stride’ position but my feet, being firmly planted, suggest the time for such recovery is past. We nod civilly at each other but I get the distinct impression both him and his dog are eager to move the past this contemplative asthmatic. I imagine he will probably avoid this section of path for the next few months; for all he knows my pockets are stuffed with granola bars and I plan on standing here until the moss and vines grow up my legs and I become part of the forest.
Of course, that will take some time.
In C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, a little girl named Lucy wakes up one evening to roam through an old Narnian forest and wistfully remembers a time when various sprites and sylvan gods inhabited them. We, perhaps fortunately, do not live in a world of sentient vegetation but if we did, I have no doubt the cedars would be first to awake. They are a noisy, scrabbly lot and the slightest breeze causes them to break into such a cacophony of creaks and groans that one feels suddenly caught up in a parade of antique furniture.
Small streams meander throughout the cedar forest and end in a swift running stream we call Jackson’s Creek. Here kingfishers, green herons and muskrats do their part in the control of the amphibian/crustacean onslaught. Turtle-heads and Blue Flag Iris’ emerge spontaneously from the river banks and are alighted on by every hue of damsel-fly. It is a peaceful place.
Or it was-
A few months ago the air became filled with the unearthly pings and creaks from a horde of metal behemoths several kilometres away – no doubt preparing the land for yet another “conservation community.” These intrusions bring to mind my struggle with urban parks. On the one hand, it is a rare privilege to have access to a nearby greenspace where one can indulge in breathing sessions at will. On the other hand, its relative privacy allows for all manner of vice and carelessness to occur; old tents, broken glass and soiled undergarments lurk in sinister proportions; bags of old dog feces hang limply from branches like abominable Christmas decorations.
It is disgraceful, but not unexpected – for how often do we find our paradise interrupted? The perfect job which hides a less-then perfect supervisor, the perfect spouse who hides the dubious skill of neglecting to replace empty toilet rolls, and the perfect diet which awards you the physique of Danny Devito.
It is an unfortunate, inconvenient but, as I am increasingly convinced, necessary part of life in this world. If true happiness could be found only among the flotsam we could taste and touch, we would never look for anything else – never dream of something better, something higher, something far more substantial and less decay-able.
And so, even as the empty can of Budweiser floating by makes me sigh, I am comforted by the appropriate longing it ignites. These moments, like the Christmas socks of yore, is a gift we never asked for, but absolutely needed.