Today I cool off in the tree after finishing a trail maintenance hike. I am dropped off in the early morning, make the long wandering climb up to Whitcomb Hill, continue along the trail that Claire and I walked during a snowstorm a few months ago, come out on Alger Brook road, and walk home from there. I go with loppers in hand, and at certain points, especially on the final stretch up to the hill, I clear small sapling growth from the edges of the trail extensively. I bring a folding saw in my backpack but never need to remove anything over an inch and a half across, aside from a few fallen logs that need to be persuaded off the path.
Doing this same hike a year ago I had a simultaneous and slightly uncanny encounter with a deer and a hawk. This year offers its own unexpected, if somewhat less profound, experience.
I sit on the stone slab at the top of the hill, have a snack and some water, and remove five or six ticks from my clothing, and two more from my scalp. The top of Whitcomb Hill is a cleared meadow, with a magnificent view to the east out over a valley to rolling hills and mountains falling away behind them. Several apple trees dot the steep slope of the hill as it falls away, and they are bursting with flowers against the hazy blue of the horizon.
When I’m done eating I stand on the slab to enjoy the view. It’s gotten hot and I’ve gone shirtless some time back, and the air is flowing deliciously and steadily over the top of the hill. I decide to walk the circle, an energy-gathering practice from Bagua that involves walking the perimeter of a circle about eight feet across, back-weighted and low, with the torso and arms turned toward the circle’s center.
After about ten minutes of this when I swing back around toward the view and the apple trees, I am stopped in my tracks by a deer head. It’s framed beneath the flowering branches of one of the apple trees, and it is perched on a long neck and staring straight at me. The neck ends at the ground because of the steepness of the slope. I am frozen and the deer is frozen and we just stand and stare at each other. Well, I stand. It has no legs, it’s just a neck and a head. The effect is comical and unnerving at the same time, and eventually I laugh out loud. I think this will startle it away but it doesn’t. It is so motionless it doesn’t look real. So I go back to walking the circle. It watches me for one full circuit and when I come back around the second time there is only greenery between ground and branch.
I never see the thing move. It isn’t there; and then it is, like a statue; and then it isn’t.
And now I stand at the top of the tree, backpack and lopper leaning against its trunk, awash in the wind again, shedding accumulated heat before I go in to shower and shed more ticks. For some reason I think of the hundred or so young trees I just dispatched in the name of creating a tick-free passage through the woods. My own version of the trees I wrote about in In Memory of Trees Not Mine, the stumps of which I just walked by on my way home.
I think of trees that are planted and trees that are cut, trees that are wild and those in rows. Trees that grow untrammeled into forests, and those that blossom singly on top of hills. Trees that make houses and trees that make wooden flutes and trees that heat stoves on a cold January night. Trees to sit under, and trees to look at, and trees to walk between.
And trees to cool down in after a hike.