“I don’t like pine trees, they are so conformist.”
Her feet steadily followed one in front of the other, kicking up a minimal amount of dust, as she declared her position with a decided tone.
This was the beginning of the trail where the ground was still level, a straightforward and simple path.
Two miles later, we had began the set of twenty two switchbacks. The trail zig zagged in and out of the forest, becoming exposed for a few turns as we navigated across the rubble of a rock fall with delicate steps. I pondered how long ago it happened, guessing several years since there were plants thriving in between the cracks.
We returned to the shaded canopy and approached a dry riverbed. It looked like it should be crossed, but the trail was no longer clear. Could it be up that hill? It seemed unusually steep, and not well-trod. But going across the river would lead us on a downward path, the opposite direction of our destination. We paused.
Apparently there was an old bootleg trail here before the switchbacks were put in. It was steeper and undesignated, a rambling route created to throw off a scent. The trees alone know such secrets, sealed in sap and forgotten footprints.
As we explored the alternate routes, the ground surrendered underneath our weight with a slow depression. It held well, but the springy response hinted at another past. Awoken by the wind the trees began to clamor with an ascending rush. This is them at their loudest, but it remains sonorous to the point of peace.
The evidence of a louder occurrence was well hidden around us. It would have been a violent disruption, thundering down in a rolling tumble of split wood, dirt clouds, and the smack of granite colliding. The remains litter the floor, now reincorporated as debris from the generations that compacted over them. As the ground gave way underfoot it exhaled the breath of history, where a rock fall’s disruption was reincorporated back into a world of muted cracks and wind-rustled leaves.
We decide to trace our steps back down the trail a bit, only to find the switchback curve we completely missed when we walked straight ahead instead of rounding the corner like we were supposed to. As we resumed our uphill ascent, we passed a thick pine that had fallen at one point, then grown outward and curved back up, making a L-shape that stretched back towards the sky.
“This one is ok,” she declares, “it clearly isn’t conforming to anything.”
We stuck to the trail, and the trees continued to live as they do, independently reaching, cohesively existing, conforming and not conforming as nature tells its own story.