Assuming nothing fatal befalls me, this year I will hit the half-century mark. To honor that milestone and lean fully into the richness of my second half of life, I made a resolution to visit an old-growth forest this year. I got my chance a few weeks ago, when I traveled to the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee to lead a retreat. After it concluded, I hiked about seven miles through Albright Grove, one of the finest stands of old-growth cove hardwood forest in the Eastern US.
As a rural person, I’ve always loved trees and forests, but Albright Grove felt like another world entirely, and I am struggling to find words for how powerfully moved I was to be among such massive, ancient creatures. At one point I took a break in the shelter of a tulip poplar that was at least seven feet thick and I would guess to be older than the founding of our country (that’s it in the photo).
Albright Grove made real for me a quote from Lao Tzu that I keep taped to my computer monitor: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” These trees and this forest had patience on a scale that I aspire to fathom, much less emulate. Whether as a tree or a person (take note, busy-busy self!), there is such immense power in standing still and waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.
But when you stand still over a long period of time, $h!@ happens. “Virgin” old-growth forest might mean untouched by human destructiveness, but Mother Nature deals plenty of disaster in her own right, and almost all of the oldest trees have blown-out limbs, lightning scars, and other signs of damage and decay. They are beautiful, but theirs is a beauty that includes much brokenness. What a reassuring example for those of us fortunate enough to have many decades on our odometer.
There is less than 5% of the original old-growth forest still standing in this country – and less than 2 or 3% in the Eastern US. We humans are, at this adolescent stage of our evolution, a terrifyingly ravenous species. And yet despite the carnage we have inflicted on this land, the trees of Albright Grove gave me hope that they, and their other sylvan relations, will be able to wait us out. When we finally learn to live peaceably among our non-human kin, or when we finally extinguish ourselves because we fail in that learning, the trees will flourish. In time, cut-over lands will become old-growth forest once again, and the broken and damaged webs of life will reweave themselves. They will not hurry, yet they will accomplish everything.
Kyle Kramer, CEO