Silent Forest

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.    ~ John Muir

The size of the ponderosa pines in Silent Forest is a testament to the vigor of mother nature. These are clearly not discontented trees, rising a hundred feet or more, trunks wrapped in red-barked girth that my outstretched arms can’t encircle. The entire forest is rooted in satisfaction as it climbs the steeply sloping southern exposure of Roaring Creek Trail.

Just off the trailhead, the creek itself belies the solitude found once the trail meanders away from its murmuring. Especially in late spring as it is now the rush of water is a cacophony of gurgles and laughter and inviting words spilling down the mountain before a convergence with the Cache la Poudre River.

The path offers switchbacks to ease the climb that lifts quickly from the dusty, graveled parking area. The scars of a prescribed burn, intended to create improved habitat for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, lap up against the side of the trail until I reach the first footbridge spanning the creek. As I continue to move further away from the road and civilization and oblivious people, my…breathing…slows. I listen as my footfalls mimic the muted conversations between tree and rock and sagebrush clinging to illogical perches in the cracks of small crags and outcrops.

The trail pushes me away from the stream to the solitude of a glen where the aspen and ponderosa stand with strength and purpose.  Even as the wind slightly rustles the branches and leaves, it is a quiet place found only in the dreams of the burdened lives thousands of feet below. I sit where a break in the sun-dappled woods offers a view up-valley where the meadow at Bliss Ranch holds a few deer and further up, Sleeping Elephant mountain stands resolute.

I think of my fellow warrior, Grey Sky, who was once with me at this spot and who expressed his appreciation for the “big fucking pondos” of Silent Forest. But I sense he connects without real commitment, a piece of him being swallowed by the next distraction before he gets too deep and unable to extricate himself from the discomfort of being away from things familiar, unable to allow the silence to penetrate too deeply. No, warrior, you will not find a cell signal here. I only wish for you to find a sign.

I rise and walk further up. The path again pulls me towards the stream, and the stream draws me towards its play. The forces of nature have caught me in a collaborative seduction, a lascivious come on back to the babbling brook and the treasures held in still pools. One hears it far ahead of seeing it, a clue to this fisherman to approach on a crawl.

From a few yards away, I belly to the bank and pause. Not even seven feet across but deep enough below to hold at least the promise of a small brook trout, the stream entices. My fly has little logic, as the decision on size or color or the stage of the short life-cycle of the insect I’m attempting to imitate is not based on any specific experience in these woods, and I resign myself to believing that whatever I choose will appear too alien to bring a fish to the surface anyway. Or perhaps these little, skittish fish, who are frankly miraculous examples of high-country survival, will see anything resembling a meal as a signal to strike. I think smaller is better, with just enough color and white wings.

Slowly I unfurl the line without rising from my place and swing the leader over the far edge of the pool, dapping the fly on the water’s surface. The take is immediate, and I slowly and protectively play the little brookie to the bank on my side, careful that my nine-foot fly rod doesn’t catch up in the overhanging branches. If you ever want to be truly amazed at the universe, study the markings of a brook trout—marbled shades marked by a sprinkled pattern of red dots encircled by mystical blue halos, and an underbelly impossibly orangish in hue leading downward towards fins edged with white.

I wet my hands as to not wipe the slime from his skin, gently hold him to remove the hook and cup him back into the pool. No man will ever put his eyes on him again, rest assured.

The sun lifts higher, the heat drawing a few beads from my nape to trickle down my back, and I drink from a pine needle-tinted eddy of winter’s rime and mountain seep. I stand to walk back through the towers of Silent Forest satisfied that I have lived this day in God’s unwarranted favor.