Every forest has a story to tell. The story you glean depends on the way you choose to read it.
When I was a child I made up stories of fairies, talking animals who lived in the forest and accompanied me on my jaunts. Sticks and moss became palaces (or weapons), weeds became braided tiaras, and mud became war paint.
As I grew older, and learned a bit about science, stories of glowing green leaves busy with photosynthesis, tadpoles becoming frogs, spawning fish who swam upstream revealed themselves to me as I walked the creek trail behind our house. In college I learned to read a forest's past, present and potential future by collecting data: getting up at 5 am to look and listen for birds, trapping and tagging rabbits, sifting through the stomach content of harvested deer, measuring trees per acre, tree species, tree rings, tree diameter, soil profiles, and anything else you might think to try to quantify. In the Peace Corps I learned to read a forest through the eyes of the people who lived there, applying a filter of years of war, uncertainty, and lost hope, and then seeking mechanisms to create a new story of opportunity, empowerment, and long-term viability.
For the past 10 years or so I have been able to visit many landowners around Oregon, hearing their forest stories. Learning their stories and helping them apply science filters so that they can read their own forests in new and useful ways is very gratifying, and fills me with motivation and inspiration to continue to do this work. But what about my personal revitalization, inspiration, and joy? Sometimes you have to leave the science behind and go back to your joyful playful days. Which is where my mountain bike comes in.
For some mountain biking seems like an arduous physical challenge, for others a high-risk adventure for adrenaline junkies. For me it is a beautiful dance. Playing the score sheet laid down by some talented trail builder I dance to topography, I sing along to the forest, a delightful fusion of kinetic, emotional, and mental notes. Bouncing over logs, rolling down rocks, curving along a topographic line and popping out to some incredible jaw-dropping view. Ending the ride exhilarated, grinning ear to ear, filled with gratitude, energy, and inspiration.
And more often than naught covered in muddy war paint.