One of the things that Brian and I did last weekend at the cabin was some trail building. Trail restoring, really – we are working with a long-disused ATV trail (and probably, logging road from the forties though it’s hard to tell that now) – and clearing it bit by bit up and around a moose pond on the crown land behind our place. It’s a short walk up, but pretty steep, and the way is littered with the deadfall of the pine-beetle forest that it winds through. On one hand, it feels like we are making a trail in a dying place – with all the pine infested and black from standing rot; on the other, there is all sorts of regeneration going on – spruce, fir, understory plants once choked by the poor pine replants that happened in the years after the original old growth was cut. (This was once a healthy fir forest, as evidenced by the few big old guys that remain). As we make our way up the hill, we test each rotting pine to see if we can simply push it over, away from the trail – to ensure we won’t be removing it from the trail next season. It’s incredibly satisfying to push a twenty-foot tree to the ground, if a little unsettling to confront the dying cycle of the forest at the same time.
Because the forest is so rickety, and because our cabin is located in an area prone to heavy winds – things are falling down all the time. In fact, it’s a hazard to be in the woods when they start to sway and from the porch on our cabin we can hear all manner of things fall – large and small – on most afternoons when the thermals pick up. Mornings are pretty calm though, not to mention cool, so it’s a safe bet for getting out with our saw, machete, and trail tape. We are doing a significant marking job up there because I want to snowshoe the area, and once a few inches fall it starts to get pretty impossible to tell what’s going on otherwise.
Trail-building is an endless exercise – with the satisfaction of bringing order to a place, laid alongside the frustration of having to clear the same ground over and over. Just when you get one section done, a tree falls over, or a branch shatters across the clearing – and there is more sawing and lifting to bring it back to rights so as to proceed. We have no illusions about the permanence of this trail, it had almost disappeared in spots before we found it – the connection to the road where the ATVs used to come up is severed by trees which have fallen across it. (We hope no one bothers to come up with a chainsaw – but it seems to have been forgotten sometime ago.) We also want to expand on an old animal/hunter (?) trail around the moose pond so that it becomes possible to snowshoe up and around the pond without getting lost.
As we worked together and talked about our task last week, it occurred to me how much trail-building and maintenance is like meditation practice – the foundation is often laid before us in the form of an old road or animal track – but it is up to us to walk it repeatedly in order to wear it into place. Even as we do that work – walking the pathway over and over – things fall into our way all the time. We get tripped up by a bad emotional reaction, a death in the family, the loss of a job, our own ego struggles – like the dead trees that fall – we must clear them, set them to the side, even allow them to be guides along the way – so that we can progress to the next point in our walk where we are confronted by some more debris that needs tending.
But like meditation, there is no endpoint. There are some views along the way, perhaps a rest by a shaded pond in the deep of the forest, but the trail is never finished – which is both a source of inspiration and the overwhelm of the infinite nature of such ventures. It’s mostly quiet though, and so the very nature of the work is restorative to the soul and the surround, even as the path can be a bit of a slog sometimes.
This was a new thing for us together and I love that we have found this practice up above our land – Brian and I – moving forward along an overgrown trail and learning about our own capacities as we go.