My childhood was populated with characters and places of fancy as I became more and more of a book lover with every passing year. Bilbo Baggins was my friend from early elementary school. Harry Potter and Ron Weasly and Hermione Granger were my companions from fifth grade on up, with their home of Hogwarts school never far from my mind. Merlin and King Arthur and the brave knights of the Round Table occupied my imagination the moment I learned their tales, and the Greek Gods have been my personal fancy since grade school. I have filled my mind with magic and fantasy for as long as I can remember, but only on very rare occasions have I been able to experience it myself.
I didn't particularly want to go. I had just barely donned my navy blue and white bathing suit and was ready for a dip in the lake. Not that the lake was particularly inviting--the day was windy, the waves were choppy, and the water was chilly enough to raise goose bumps. However, I had gone to all the work to get into my suit and muster my courage to take the plunge with my brothers, who were also properly suited. However, my mother (according to my father) is generally the executive ruling body when it comes to planning and scheduling, and the order of the day was that we would hike first. So hike we would.
I somewhat unwillingly changed clothes and got in the car, groaning a little as I pulled myself in and felt my shins pang in response. I was still sore from the brisk hike we had taken two days before, along with some sprinting practice along the way on my part. I was regretting the sprinting two days later--my shin splints were haunting me with a vengeance, with my hamstrings following suit. Still, the order was to hike, and no amount of protest was going to change the order. So off we went (seven children, four parents, two grandparents, and a partridge in a pear tree), packed into two cars, ready to hike.
We were into the Olympic National Forest and on the trail within half an hour. The forest was unquestionably beautiful--I had forgotten how much so. Thick columns of tree trunks stood everywhere, a sky blue ceiling visible between their branches. Tapestries of tangled green moss hung from their branches. Dead logs lay on their sides, overgrown with lush greenery. The air was moist and sweet, the path easy and the walk not at all strenuous. A few times we crossed sparkling streams over log bridges (or alternate means if the kids decided to get creative).
At length we reached the river proper, deep and rushing, a good fifty feet in breadth. I clambered onto a rock overlooking an inlet of deep, dark blue water so clear and beautiful I instantly regretted my swimming suit drip drying back at the cabin. I wanted to dive off the end of the rock and into the perfect blue of the inlet.
I moment later I watched my brothers clamber to another part of the shore banked by high walls of earth. They didn't reappear. I followed them around, perplexed--and found the most beautiful little room I could have imagined. It was formed by the wall of earth curving around some of the rocks on the shore. Above, at the level of the trail, a tree grew at the edge of the bank, it's roots curling down over the exposed earth and around the rocks and boulders. There was something ancient about the place--something mystical and powerful, a kind of magic. I sat upon a rock draped in a carpet of soft moss and looked out over the river from that place, one hand placed on the nearest root of the tree, as though to hear the beating of an ancient, living heart within it. The river passed by, the tree loomed overhead, and I rested.
Eventually I climbed out of the chamber on the roots of the great tree, thinking my family might be ready to leave soon. They had not yet gone anywhere, so I began to explore anew, walking straight into the forest to see what I could see. I was not there a moment before the real world disappeared and a fairy land took its place. I was in and enchanted forest, creating my very own adventure.
I raced through the trees and over the undergrowth, agile as a deer and light as a dryad. I climbed to the top of a great boulder cloaked with moss and basked in the sunlight. I balanced across fallen logs on tiptoe and leaped over crevices to land softly in the moist earth on the other side. I climbed a rock wall to the crest of one of the tallest rocks and looked out over the forest around me. I felt like part of the woods. The wind blew, the trees grew, and Rachel ran and jumped and danced through the shimmering gold and green wonderland.
I was loathe to leave--I had never had an experience so close to the fantasies of my youth than that one. I wanted to be part of this fairyland, feeling my heart beat and body move along with the rhythms and patterns of those beautiful, ancient, magnificent woods. Unfortunately, all things must come to an end, and we soon had to return home.
Still, all is not lost. William Wordsworth shared a beautiful thought regarding his experience with a "host of golden daffodils" that I have practiced many a time. "Then off when on my couch I lie / in vacant or in pensive mood / they flash upon that inward eye / which is the bliss of solitude / and then my heart with rapture fills / and dances with the daffodils." Like Wordsworth did, I took the beauty I saw and kept it in my heart and mind. Next time I have had a hard day or find myself in "vacant or in pensive mood," I can close my eyes, let myself drift back in time, and remember the day when I raced and danced through my own enchanted forest. When I need to remember the magic of this hard world, I can remember that day...
And all at once the magic will be there once again, as fresh and shining and inspiring as the very day I found it--there in the forests and the riverbanks of Washington.
Thanks, my friends... .'til next time.
|Olympia National Park--my enchanted forest. Isn't it beautiful?|