I did not know this, but my second husband and I were married during the International Year of the Forests 2011. Did you know that 2011 was the Year of the Forest? I didn’t know it, until I started doing some research for this blog. Funny how things come around like this for me. They’ve been doing this since I met my 2nd husband in 2010.
I’m not sure what it is, but lately, I’ve been feeling more and more connected with everything than I ever have before. Ok…so maybe that’s a bit too deep for some of you. It’s ok, I get it and I won’t get much deeper than that for the rest of this blog….maybe.
The Colorado Trail
What prompted me to write this blog was the hike I had recently taken with my husband along two miles of the 500-mile long Colorado Trail recently. More specifically, it was the trees along this trail that inspired me. Sure, I’ve seen some pretty funky-looking trees in my day, especially in the harsher climates of the Rocky Mountains closer to the tundra, but I think the trees along this trail spoke to me more than I had expected…mostly because when I decided I wanted to write a blog about this hike, it was the title that first came to mind. Taking a hike along the Colorado Trail? Well, that was inspired by a previous trip and a discovery of the trail which I had no idea existed until October of this year.
Hiking in Colorado
So…let’s start with the idea of taking a hike in the Colorado high country. The Colorado Trail is actually a 500-mile long trail that spans the Rocky Mountains from Denver to Durango. It is broken up into sections and covers lower elevations of about a mile above sea level to higher elevations of about 14,000 feet above sea level. All along this trail, you can find everything from high country wildflowers, to mountain animals and to the trees. The trees range from various pine species to the hearty aspen.
Hiking in the high country can test your stamina. When you hike in Colorado, you have to expect that the hike will be a tad bit strenuous, especially if you are not a Colorado native. Living at a mile high and higher means that the oxygen in the air is thinner, making breathing a bit more labored. You should also expect quickly changing weather conditions with the potential to be exposed to lethal weather depending on where you hike.
This blog is not about the potential hazards of hiking though, it is about what you can see (when you’ve got your eyes and mind open) while hiking in the Colorado high country…namely, the trees.
The hearty high country tree
I love trees! I don’t think I can extol their virtues enough, but will give it my best shot. They provide shelter, nourishment, the air we breathe, healing, a home, artistic vision and so much more. In the high country, you can find trees which have lived long lives…longer than humans’ lives even…all while being bent over and battered by some of the harshest weather on the planet. Yet, they withstand the harshness of nature, holding firm to their ground for the sole purpose of life. To live, sometimes in places where no human would dream; to give life where not much else can live…this is the virtue of the hearty high country tree.
In Colorado, we have various pine and deciduous tree species. In the high country, native trees consist of pine and aspen. In the winter, the mountainsides are dotted with the green of the hearty evergreen pine trees throughout the snow-covered forest floors and in the summer, the forest green of the mountainside pine trees includes the deep green leaves of the aspen. In the fall, the Rockies come alive with the changing colors of the aspen leaves, from neon yellow, to gold, to burnt orange and then brown, before they fall gently to the forest floor below.
Walk into any aspen forest in Colorado and you will see and feel a history of the life of the forest as you move your way in between both young and old aspen stands. This was the feeling I got as my husband and I worked our way through the forest on the west side of Kenosha Passalong the Colorado Trail. We started out in a relatively young aspen stand and then walked through an older one which led us through a pine forest only to find our way to yet another hearty stand of aspen as we gradually walked uphill above 10,000 feet.
Beaten and weathered
While not all trees can withstand the fury of Mother Nature, those that do, tend to prominently show off their battle worn weather scars. One such scar type is known as the snow knee. This phenomenon occurs when a heavy snow weighs down on the trunks of young trees for a while. Sometimes, this happens year after year until you finally get the effect of a bend in the tree trunk which tends to have the appearance of a knee. Other weather scars include branches that grow on only one side of the tree because of the high winds that occur along mountain tops, or trees that survive drought and even those that survive fire, which show off their scars mostly along their trunks in the telltale sign of blackened bark.
By Adelaide Crapsey. 1878–1914
Is it as plainly in our living shown,
By slant and twist, which way the wind hath blown?
As I walked with my husband…er, trudged through these forests of stately bark-covered life, I felt just a tad humbled by not only their resilience against the tests of time and Mother Nature, but their unique beauty as well. Not one tree was like the other and they were all quite beautiful to me. I felt that if I did not try just a little harder to make it up and over just one more hill that I would disappoint more than just myself…that I might disappoint these creatures of nature who have withstood the elements only to bring life to the rest of the ecosystem.
I’ve got a picture of myself up in a tree when I was about seven-years-old. I not only loved to climb trees when I was a kid, but now, I love to sit under them and feel the coolness of their shade, as well as even hug trees…lol. Well, maybe I liked hugging only one tree in particular. This tree just happened to be growing on the property that used to be owned by my ancestors in Pennsylvania during the 1700’s. I came to this tree while I was on my honeymoon in October of 2011. My husband wanted to show me the brilliance of autumn in the Adirondacks and while Pennsylvania isn’t quite part of the Adirondacks, it was our first stop…mostly because I had dreamt of visiting the area where my ancestors had settled in America in the late 1600’s – the Wissahickon Valley. They were amongst the first builders and owners of the first paper mills in this country. So, it meant something to me to be where they had been and to take in the surrounding nature as much as I could…I guess it was my way to feel who my ancestors were.
Walking through time and nature
While I knew I was walking in the same country-side that my ancestors had walked some 300 years ago, the only signs of them left standing were their grand-children’s’ homes. The images running through my mind as I walked the tree and shrub-lined trails in Pennsylvania were similar to those that crossed my mind as I hiked along the Colorado Trail with my husband – Who may have gone here before me? When did they pass this way? Did they appreciate what they were passing through as I appreciate it now?
Like I said, I did a little bit of research when I had settled on my blog theme. I found some really interesting stuff on my search for information, so I thought I would share it with all of you:
- American Forests: Protecting and Restoring Forests
- Forest Protection Blog – Earth’s first blog, since 1995
- The Nature Conservancy: Forests – For People, Water and Wildlife
- Of Forests and Men – USA (Edward Norton) (7:24) A Vimeo video about forests and a must-watch!
- US Forest Service
- High Country News – In praise of ancient tree stumps