A Home in the Trees

by Nicole Wasylak

The first step was neither thrilling nor boring. It was simply what I have always done. We put one foot in front of the other, hoping that those very feet pull us in a better direction. But that’s not what this experience was about.

It wasn’t about finding something more, or better, or prodigious. It was about existing. It was about reconnecting with roots that every single one of us has so negligently lost touch with. It was about finding my place in a setting that was miles from home, the distance more profound that if I had been standing on the other side of the world. It’d be lying, however, if I said the second step didn’t carry some form of excitement.

A cavern of trees, gaping yet secluded, opened into the mountain, this cove safeguarded by looming balsam fir and black spruce that emerged from the floor like sentinels, tall and watchful, old yet wise. There was a heavy silence that coincided with the forest, one that assured you that while the life around you did not have a tongue of its own, it was always communicating with the flora and fauna around it. About what, I am not so sure.

I do not know what the forest speaks about, but I know that she most certainly does. That was why I found myself ready to climb Cascade Mountain, yes? To go back to where we were supposed to be this entire time, so that I could better understand a language that we all no longer know how to speak. Our lack of touch with our surroundings has turned us all deaf to the words that these gargantuan mountains whisper to us everyday. I went back to listen. 

With each step, I imagined the ground absorbing my energy and dispersing it amongst the roots and mycelium below my feet. I could feel the connections both below and above me. I could feel the way the leaves of the tall red pines splayed out so they avoid contact with one another and allowed fractals of honey sunlight to press against the brush, setting the most abstract parts of the woods aglow. Never in my life had I seen such a wonderful shade of green. Never has emerald or jade looked so dull compared to the jewels that sprouted from the branches that lazily swayed above me.

The backpack upon my spine weighed a great deal, but there wasn’t a moment in my life I had felt so light, the people at my back only making my experience that much greater.

As we climbed higher, despite the air getting thinner, I was breathing easier. The oxygen entered my lungs and cleansed any residue of another setting, any indication that my home was not atop this mountain, but miles and miles away. The thing about home, it’s not a destination. It’s not an address in a book. It’s not a house in an allocated lot. Home is merely wherever your heart is and on that day my heart was in the trees. It was hidden in the hemlock that tangled itself between brambles and bushes. It was in the hollow of the trunks, where a variety of life also called home. It was everywhere. I was everywhere. 

The hours ticked by, the air warming from the sun that was slowly climbing in the sky. The fog began to dissipate, that early-morning chill departing with it. My skin grew cold and clammy and I shucked off my sweatshirt, my skin able to breathe the bracing air, so fresh I swore I could taste it on my tongue.

It was no wonder the life around us was so abundant, no wonder the patches of greenery beside the trail looked like something out of a fairy tale. Beds of moss, a carpet for the earth, spread along the mountain floor where bygone boulders slept quietly atop. Mayflies gathered in the sleepy creeks that ran through the terrain, the water gurgling silently as the wing-ed creatures danced in unison around it.

It was silent save for the low, deep thump of our footfalls, and it seemed that with every step we took, the somnolent forest began to slowly awaken. Every now and again I heard the stilly call of a warbler, so low and calm it was as if the birds were cognizant of the life that may have still been deep in slumber as the mid-noon hour crept closer.

It was about two hours into our slow ascent when tranquility evolved into excitement. I had no idea of the view I was about to witness at the peak of this 4,000 foot mountain.

First, I was faced with a break in the trees, an area where the path yawned and gave way to a massive scramble that rose up toward the peak of the mountain. Like a curtain, it obscured my view. I was immensely grateful, for I didn’t want to see my view until my feet were firmly planted on the highest point. 

There was a tightening in my chest that I didn’t recognize, an electric hum to my veins that felt alien but welcome. I felt a burning in the back of my throat and I bit my lip, blinking rapidly in an attempt to staunch the flow from my eyes.

My eyes shifted back and forth, unable to help but drink in the view around me. I shielded them in an attempt to build suspense. My little sister grabbed my hand and pulled me forth, the elation in her own voice more important than my inability to truly process what I was seeing. I let her , my very own guide, lead me forward – a captain of emotions that were far too difficult for me to process alone.

Another emotion, this one more powerful than any I’d ever encountered, welled up within me, and I remembered that it wasn’t solely about where I was, but who I was with. I squeezed her hand tightly in mine, letting her guide me to the acme of the mountain.

I was there.

Before I knew it, my feet were planted firmly atop the peak, my arms shaking, heart racing, eyes raining. I turned to my family, eyes wide with humility, awe and a mixture of another feeling I still, to this day, cannot place.

Mountains, far and wide, stretched across the land like sleeping giants, giants from stories, from lore. Giants from a millenia ago who have watched over the world far longer than the humans who climb to the top of them each day. The trees were hushed in a way that demanded our silence, as though the view deserved the utmost of reverence, one where I was not entitled to speak, but simply to listen. Listen to whatever they had to say. 

There is no other way to describe it than all-consuming, this notion that there I was, at the zenith of the world, and I could see everything. But it wasn’t just the view of the valleys that weaved their way across the land like stoic waves or the way the clouds practically encompassed me as we both occupied the sky – it was because I had a view of the world.

It was that below me lay land that held places and names I didn’t know, stories of people that would never be told to me. The pages of an entire book were laid out before me, and even though I couldn’t read them, I could see them. I could see everything. 


A version of this post originally appeared in “Tenacity” The Teller October 2019 Issue #7

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