There’s something magical about touching a 400 year old tree. The bark feels more like stone than wood, thick and hard from centuries of enduring all kinds of weather. There’s something humbling about seeing branches larger than most trees, and there’s something life-affirming about seeing root systems large enough to life heavy stones from the ground. If you enjoy the majesty of nature, you need to visit Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and experience these things for yourself. My first trip there was 20 years ago, when I was a student at Walters State and president of the Outdoors Club. Ever since, I’ve longed to go back.
When Mari and I first planned this getaway, it was the first place I thought about. She loves hiking and observing natural beauty, and I wanted to see the forest again. On the lower end of the trail, many of the older trees are gone. Some have simply died and still stand, leafless and branchless, ghostly husks of once mighty trees. Others looked to me as if a strong wind, perhaps a tornado or microburst, had snapped them at their bases, for the trunks were twisted and splintered by a powerful force. On the lower end, I was heartbroken, believing I had missed my opportunity to see these giants again.
But once you reach the memorial stone, dedicated to the poet Joyce Kilmer who died in action during WWI, much of the old growth remains. Some of the older trees are sick, a mercury-colored sap oozing from their bark, but many are still healthy and vibrant. The forest itself is still very much alive, with new growth flourishing in the unspoiled soil. The ferns, moss, and mushrooms alone are worth the two mile hike, but the real wonders are the ancient trees, some wider than my wingspan, their branches looming a hundred feet overhead. They are breathtaking in their majesty, and my words and these picture don’t do them justice.
I’m not certain how long the old growth will remain, so if you want to see them, you should go soon. The hike isn’t strenuous, with very few climbs and plenty of opportunities to stop and rest. It’s an experience unlike any other, especially for an old nature lover like me. In the depth of the forest, where the old growth still remains, there’s an ineffable energy that will feed your soul and soothe your heart. Life and all its complexities and splendors are abundant, and it’s a wonderful reminder of just how amazing our planet really is. I urge you to go and experience this for yourself because there’s no telling just how long the massive trees will still be here. For me, I will not wait another 20 years before I return.