Alder leaves crunched underfoot as I made my way slowly up a tunneled, tree-lined, abandoned road in the Tillamook State Forest. I didn’t know where I was going. In fact, I barely knew where I was as I wandered the seemingly infinite network of active and abandoned logging roads that crisscrossed the state forests, an imaginary boundary of land that encompasses a large swath of the northern Oregon coast range.
A seemingly vast expanse of wilderness, though truly the forest is vast nor wild any longer. It is a managed, planted, “working” forest and the denizens of this once wild place are now beholden to the schedules of harvest and the boundaries of timber sales. The land slowly regenerates, only to be pierced again by roads and machinery, logged for what it’s worth, the rest discarded and piled along with the slash. Creatures of the forest move on, if they can, finding new refuge in other, recovering tracts of land.
The modest yet powerful rivers that form the chasms and canyons of this lowland mountain country wind their way between the peaks, curling and unfurling as they make their way to the ocean. At the confluence, the powerful rivers will slack and ease as they become part of the bay, sprawling wide and open, a mouth that greets the sea.
Sometimes, from the highest open ridges, you can see the bay, the crumpled velvety mass of the forest and the mountains, forever unfolding beneath. From these places, you can smell the salty, crisp, pungent air of the ocean and also the heady, softly warm smell of decomposing leaves and soil, the warm, dusty, fruity aroma of blackberry vines that coil and sprawl, the smell of gravel roads, and the dark wet places where moss carpets it all, holding moisture in, protecting the soft heart of the earth.
In these places, I roam without a destination, there is no summit or final mileage goal, there is no finish line to reach. I will not track myself as a colorful squiggly line against a digital map. There is nothing to accomplish, nothing to complete, nothing to win or lose, except yourself.
Indeed, if you came here and wandered with me into the forest, you would learn what I’ve come to know deeply in my heart as I ascend every ridge and explore every valley- no one cares what you do in the forest alone.
All the prizes are false flags, all the accomplishment is faulty. What reveals itself instead is the simple satisfaction that comes from knowing; that is borne of experience, and that owes nothing to anyone at all.
What you receive at the end of your journey is a key unlocking a thousand new journeys, a million other ways to be alone with the forest, a trillion other ways to see and experience yourself anew, and an infinite, uncoiling universe of of potential, always expanding, never ceasing, rolling up and over the top of everything you thought you knew. And this magic, THE magic- is free for the taking, ready for you to receive. You don’t need to fight for it, sweat for it, punish yourself to be worthy of it.
You just return and you will find your forest home, somewhere among the crunchy alder leaves and the mossy sinks. You will accept your birth rite along the creek’s towering cedars and firs. Do not slave away, do not best, do not adventure, conquer or achieve. Simply receive. Accept what is true, right in front of you, that which lays at your feet. You belong. You belong to these places in the way we once believed they belonged to us.
Your heart could find its home here if you could just still yourself long enough to listen.
Trips like this and many others to the Tillamook State Forest are now available through http://wildsolitudeguide.com