This is the forest I was walking through alone, in the early morning, with a pack on my back. Although individual trees had come and gone since Gosse’s time, the forest as a whole had changed very little. “To walk alone in the forest,” wrote Gosse, “is a high gratification. The perfect stillness and utter solitude, unbroken, commonly, by even ordinary woodland sounds and sights, tranquillize and sober the mind….The devout spirit is drawn upward in such a scene ”
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Despite the weight on my back, my steps through the Sipsey Wilderness were light.
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I had read about the Tree on the big tree websites, and I planned to visit it on my hike. The trail to the Tree is unmarked and starts more than four miles from the closest parking area. A simple fork in the path puts you on a very rough, very narrow trail. There will be some things you have to crawl under and some things you have to climb over. You will be tired already, from the long hike you have been on just to get to this trail (not to mention the long drive from anywhere). I had maps, but I still wasn’t completely sure I was on the right trail. In the middle of nowhere, a sweaty guy appeared from behind a huge boulder. He was moving quickly down the trail, but I stopped him to ask if I was where I thought I was.
I continued up the trail not knowing what I would find. Would I recognize the Tree when I saw it? Looking for a single, certain big tree in a sea of trees can be a challenge. You start wondering: Could this be the Tree? Maybe that’s the Tree? But in Sipsey, there was no doubt.
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A mile farther up the trail, I looked up and was overcome by a rush of recognition: the Tree! I approached it and touched it. I circled it. How to describe it? Ginormous was recently added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but perhaps behemoth would work as well though I didn’t really like either of those terms for this tree.
There is no English word for something so large and so old that you want to pay it homage, something that has survived when everything around it has perished. This tulip poplar was already growing here when the native people called the species by a different name: sipsey.
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