“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” ~ Joyce Kilmer
Of all the years we lived in Western North Carolina and hiked the trails surrounding us, we had never been to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, near Robbinsville. Encouraged by our son to explore this area as he has done, we did just that. Part of the Nantahala National Forest, this 3,800 acre tract miraculously escaped the lumbering of the 1920s which resulted in the clear-cutting of much of the surrounding areas.
The best way to see a woodland is to hike its trails. The one we chose is a two mile, figure eight loop that winds through one of the few remaining tracts of virgin hardwood forests in the Appalachians.
The old heart got a work out after climbing steps that ran along the rushing creek. It quickly leveled out to reveal that a few remaining rhododendron were still in bloom.
Soon, we came to a boulder with a plaque centered on it commemorating the poet, Joyce Kilmer, for whom the forest is named. He was a World War I hero who died in France, and the forest was dedicated to him in 1935 by the US Forest Service.
He is also author of the famous poem, “Trees”. Those of my generation surely must recall having to memorize this poem in grade school. The first two and last two lines are the most memorable. This plaque was at the entrance of the trail.
As Ron and I walked, we realized we were whispering. When we encountered other hikers, which were few, we exchanged whispered hellos. That is the effect the forest has. One of solitude, sereneness and quiet reflection.
As we entered the area of giants, we marveled at the tulip poplars which are about 400 years old. The largest are over 100 feet tall and well over 20 feet in circumference. I have never visited the redwoods and the giant trees of America’s west coast, so this is as close to large trees as I have been. I felt humbled and in awe.
Today, the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is home to more than 100 species of trees, including virgin stands of sycamore, basswood, oak, and yellow-poplar. All the more important to preserve what we can of virgin forests. The canopy’s density blocked out the gorgeous blue sky and puffy white clouds of summer, and then the woods opened back up to reassure us of a non-threatening sky. Because it rained recently, the forest released its earthy aroma while mushrooms sprouted on the leaf laden floor.
Lacy ferns lined the edge of the trail, and large moss covered logs lay where fallen, maintaining a natural state.
It was important to watch our footing as the trail changed from packed dirt to tree roots to large rocks. Watching one’s head was also in order.
High up in the tree canopies we heard the twitter of song birds but could not see them. They remained hidden in their lofty cathedral. And on the trail, the only sound we heard was our own breathing and footsteps. No creatures of the forest made their presence known that day. Perhaps they were watching us instead.
One tree we noticed was heavily carved into. Thankfully, it was limited to the one tree and not others, marring the natural beauty that Joyce Kilmer describes in his simple poem.
Finishing the figure eight loop trail, we crossed the bridge and watched the water gurgling and cascading over the moss covered rocks. Light dappled the area and children could be seen playing in the water.
This was a lovely forest hike. I felt we had the trail mostly to ourselves which only enhanced our experience of walking in this cathedral of trees.
One last look at the information kiosk before heading back to our family gathering at Lake Fontana.
Have you been on any hikes this summer? And where in this incredibly diverse world were they?
Do check out Marianne of East of Malaga for her One Trip Every Month Challenge.