“One day you’ll hear them. In the quiet, some whisper you’d mistaken for the wind all your life. But it’ll be the trees. Nature is talking to us all the time, it’s just hearing it that’s the problem.”
-Louise Penny, The Cruelest Month
My father raised me on the works of Tolkien – filled with rolling hills, towering mountains and lively forests that marched on for miles and miles – to the ends of the world. Some of the trees in his wonderful universe not only lived, but walked and talked and fought back against their oppressors and those who would seek to wipe them from the earth.
Though I was born much too late in the human era of our planet to see and appreciate woods without end, I always felt there was something special about these silent guardians of the environment. Whenever given the chance, I could walk through woods for hours, touching the rough bark here and there as I passed, imaging the wind slithering through the trees was bringing their voices to me. It always seemed to me that they were reaching out to speak, straining to share everything they had seen with those who would sit still long enough to listen.
I have read enough books to know that I am not alone in these thoughts. Novelist after novelist has described a feeling of kinship, of communication, with the giants of the forest and glen. Tolkien simply chose to try and interpret what they would say if we could only understand them.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, Kristen and I alighted from the bus at a crossroads to wait for a second bus to take us to Fort Augustus, at the base of Loch Ness. Despite the damp cold and the complete lack of knowledge of where we were, we were content to wait in the small concrete shelter that passed for a bus station on the side of the tiny road – spending most of our time chatting about our experiences so far while gazing up at the impossibly tall trees that surrounded us.
As time drew on, I felt like I was being closely crowded by a group of curious onlookers, peering to see who we were and why we had intruded on their peaceful and silent existence. It honestly felt like the woods may have had eyes. I don’t even think we were in the middle of the woods so much among a sliver trees meant to protect the nearby towns from the sounds of the small highway and yet the thick, muffled silence made that distinction hard to make.
Once the bus found us, however, against all odds (speaking as one born and raised in a city of many fancy bus stations) it spirited us away from our over-sized companions towards an area surrounded by truly robust woods of startling beauty – something Kristen and I were excited to explore immediately.
We tossed our stuff into our new home for 2 nights and allowed ourselves a bit of a breather before striking out again for the unknown. This time, however, the hostel had kindly supplied us with a walking map of the trails nearby.
From what I remember all these years later (my journal-writing skills were sorely lacking on this particular trip) we chose a trail/road to the North of the River Oich. The crowded scenery we walked through was stunning in its motley mix of colours. Reddish trees thrust out of the ground, speckled with tufts of bright green moss – so green as to appear almost radioactive.
Choosing not to spend the whole walk talking but rather prancing around largely in silence, stretching our legs and taking in what each of us needed from nature in that moment, our silence was mostly punctured by sighs of contentment as we traipsed though the foliage. Every time we came out of the trees to the riverside, we glimpsed jumping fish and red squirrels dancing their way through their beautiful habitat. One thing we did not find, however, was a certain mysterious creature the area is particularly famous for.
Very Short Useless Historical Fact #11
The River Oich connects Loch Ness at its tail end with Loch Oich to the South-West. Though the majority of the sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have occurred, appropriately, at its home base in Loch Ness, some others of a similar beast have been reported at the lesser known Loch Oich as well. Folklorists believe it highly unlikely that there are two such creatures living in Scotland and so they explain these sightings by suggesting that the River Oich serves as a watery pathway between the two lakes – for whenever Nessie wants a change of scenery.
Despite the lack of monster sightings, I am truly grateful for the time Kristen and I spent in the wild woods of the Scottish highlands. For such a peaceful place, it struck me that some of the older trees must have witnessed so much human horror throughout the years. Our species must seem so unnecessarily violent to them, always fighting bloody battles for control of something that would truly flourish without us. Tolkien’s Ents make a conscious choice to stay out of human conflict, seeing the futility and the brevity of it. Not until they realize that humanity has become so arrogant as to assume they have the right to determine not only who among their own species lives or dies but have also begun to treat nature with the same contempt, do they decide to put aside their stoicism and join the fight to protect their very right to live in the world. Our own world is no different, what wanton destruction humanity has wrought on the planet that provides us with the very air we breathe.
But our relationship with the Earth does not have to be so fraught. Though I may not have been able to understand what the woods were saying to us in the quiet moments we spent with them, it seemed as if they too were enjoying a quiet communion with humanity – after so much destruction and turmoil. As the breeze sailed smoothly through the trees, it was almost as if the gentle giants were themselves sighing in contentment. For both nature and humanity, how nice to be truly at peace.
Whether you choose to commune with nature, or just appreciate it, remember:
Life is Beautiful