PSA: Nina’s alter-ego has been changed to Chava. Long story short, Jo is trying to get more active on her blog and has many characters about whom I do not write. While working on her list of names, Nina said she wanted a change. I submitted Chava (ha-vah), my favorite character from Fiddler on the Roof.
I have been trying to find a certain hemlock grove for several years.
I first wandered through it while my family and the MacIntyres were on a hiking trip. Before then, I don’t know that I’d ever come across a proper grove of hemlock trees. Red pines all in rows are inspiring, and birches with peeling bark and bright leaves are pretty, but hemlocks are another thing altogether.
I remember it was a windy day and the noise of the hemlocks stirring in the breeze sounded like waves. It was one of those moments I tucked away in my brain and came back to when I needed something to cheer me up; the sort of memory that gets golden and heady from all of the times I’ve pulled it out to examine it.
Ever since then, I’ve wanted to go back, but I couldn’t remember the name of the trail we took. I’ve searched Google with any number of keywords, but to no avail.
Turns out all I needed to do was ask Fay.
Back at the end of June, I was faced with an extra long holiday weekend and no plans. I wanted to get out and get some woody air in my lungs, but I didn’t want to go alone. So I asked Fay, in part because I haven’t spent nearly enough time with her this summer and in part because she is a Forestry student, so it seemed logical.
About the time I decided this, I turned to Google once more, and at last I hit upon the right combination of search words. And there it was: my hemlock grove. I was so giddy I texted Mom and Jo immediately.
Fay’s response when I told her with much enthusiasm of my search was, “Oh, really? I could have told you where it was right away.”
So, destination set, we prepared to set out. I put together a playlist, Fay grabbed the necessary supplies, and we met bright and early to grab breakfast and bug spray.
Getting to our destination was its own adventure. I had typed in the name of the trail we were after, but instead we wound up on a little residential street about a half hour away from the correct location, which bore the same name as the trail.
I did spend some time getting properly introduced to Twenty One Pilots when my Spotify stopped streaming and Fay pulled out her iPod. I’m tentatively won over.
The weather was perfect: a little drizzly on the way up, then overcast and cool until we started for home hours later, when the sun came out. The bugs were a nuisance, but with regular reapplication of bug spray we survived.
When we parked at the trail-head, I knew we were at the right place. The trail was a loop and there was some debate about which direction we should take first to get to the hemlocks more quickly. We knew there was a hill at what was supposed to be the end of the trail but which we had struck first during our family hike. Fay thought the hill was right and I thought left.
It’s nice to have remembered one thing accurately where Fay did not. She does the rest of the remembering.
The memorable thing about this trail is how it takes you through different kinds of environments: red pines, birches, and other trees I could not name. Fay could name them, though. She made friends with practically everything along the trail, whispering their names (often followed by the Latin) in a scholarly sort of way. We crossed a creek several times and listened to birds singing a way off. And, after the first half-mile, we didn’t see any other humans.
As a kid, I was always warned not to touch things along the trail for fear of poison: by berries or by poison ivy.
My Forestry student companion starting popping wintergreen berries before 30 minutes had passed. Startling, to say the least.
So, in a very meandering fashion while we made up a story about a wood elf and a witch, we made our way. And eventually Fay turned from grumbling about spotting yet another giant white pine and said, “I think these are hemlocks.”
The grove wasn’t as large as I remembered – the trees weren’t quite as tall – but it was definitely the place. Standing there, watching a high breeze stir the treetops while birdsong echoed in the distance, I felt like Anne Shirley feeling a prayer.
I think everyone has a place where they are more themselves than at other times; where they are their truest selves. It’s a home sort of feeling. A few lucky people are always at home, no matter where they wander, but others must seek out a certain collection of humans, a place with just the right light or just the right scent, a particular room in a favorite house…. Chava likes to go into a cornfield when the tassels are above her shoulders and stand so still she can hear the stalks growing. Calli is addicted to the beach.
Me? I need some trees too large for me to put my arms around, their tops so high I get dizzy looking up at them, with the light gone hazy and the wind sounding like waves on a rocky shore.
And no mosquitoes whining about my ears and telling me I must keep moving.
I know a lot of the girls in my circle during our school years liked to plan their future weddings as a weird sort of past-time. It seemed like everyone knew what sort of dress they wanted, what colors they preferred, and where and when they wanted to be married; the way girls always have a list of names they want for their kids. These elaborate plans tended to change every few months, but most of them had something.
The only things I ever knew for certain were that I would be wearing my mother’s dress, which was also her mother’s dress, and I would have a small wedding, groom’s wishes be hanged.
Now I know I want to be married at dawn in the middle of a hemlock grove. Probably in September.
Shortly after we dragged ourselves away from the hemlocks, we found the hill.
Guess which route we chose?
I need to go hiking more.
The trail came back around to itself and, after a brief scare where I thought I had lost the car keys, we were on our way again. But it was still early (we started hiking around 10:30). Over stuffed bread sticks and DQ we pondered our options and ended up on another trail not far away from the first.
All of the trails in the area belong to a State Park, but the one with the hemlock grove was more rugged. This second trail, in an old growth forest, is paved for most of the way and has signs and a logging museum and an old chapel. More people, too, but that also meant dogs; including a 5-month-old spotted Great Dane puppy named Oswald.
We did not get home until 6:00 that night, after almost 12 hours and 8 miles of exploring and sore everything and bugs and fresh air and muddy feet.
The next day was my last shift for fireworks tents, and Fay and I both started Camp NaNoWriMo. July has been pretty steady since then (if you don’t count the higher mosquito count thanks to the flood, or how my car keeps giving me issues). I wrote 20,000 words inside of a week and Fay kept ahead of me most of the time. She’s still writing while I’m a little stalled at the opening of my story’s second act.
Apart from a few hot, humid days, the weather has been nice. We can open the windows at night and be almost chilled by morning, we’ve had enough rain but not the storms they keep predicting, and I think there are more fireflies than usual. Last weekend Fay and I met for breakfast again and then headed to the local gardens, where she repeated her routine of running up to trees and declaring their names.
These trees were labeled, so it was more of a game than before. And several were of an invasive species.
If you want some extra excitement in life, get a Forestry student for an adventure pal.