Speaking with the Trees

May 17, 2022
In the foreground is the wood decking overlooking the hill. In front of it is a young lichen covered tree. The perspective of the photo looks down through an early spring forest, before the trees have their leaves. Below the lookout, runs a stream.
Photo by Jaik Faulkner

by Jaik Faulkner, Cincinnati Nature Center Member

There is an old shagbark hickory along the Redwing Trail that overlooks a forest much younger than itself. I often stop awhile beneath its shade and share stories that I’ve carried with me during my hikes here at the Cincinnati Nature Center. I’ve spoken to other trees at Rowe Woods, but none as often as to the old soul that grows here. I’ve told it tales of deer walking alongside me on the old route of the Geology Trail before its collapse. It’s heard about the time when I was caught in a summer downpour and ran downhill laughing, intoxicated by the smells of blackberries and petrichor.

It knows every detail of a winter’s day, laden with fresh snow, when I shed my boots and socks to wade across the icy stream and climb the old stairs of Far Ridge, where the only footprints that day would be those I left behind me. I like to imagine this tree looks forward to hearing my stories and waits for me there, waving its limbs in recognition and whispering its own stories to me on the wind when I finally arrive. My hike today will be another story I carry to my old familiar friend the next time I find myself on that path.

Today I find myself at the overlook on White Tail Trace and close my eyes, taking in the sounds of the water below me and the birds calling out all around to celebrate the warming season and the rebirth of life. The sweet smell of fallen trees, consumed by moss and mushrooms fills the air, accentuated by a cool breeze that’s borrowed scents from spring wildflowers.

A wave of nostalgia hits me, and I am taken back to some of my earliest memories as a child where I’m taking all of this in for the very first time, perched atop my father’s shoulders as we crossed the stream along what I now know to be the Geology Trail.

I can remember how bright the sun was that day and how every twist and bend in the trail revealed new splendors for my young eyes to behold. This moment in time feels safe and familiar in its innocence. Though I’ve grown and changed over the years, the smells and sounds of the forest here will always evoke that same comforting feeling as they always have.

I return to the trail and reflect upon the many memories from all my countless journeys on these pathways, many of which I have told to that old shagbark hickory. I think about what this place means to me, and I feel overwhelmed by emotions.

A lot has transformed at the Nature Center since my childhood, as made clear by the comical mounds of sawdust that encircle the husks of trees that forgot to fall at the end of their lives. Like stewards of the forest, the pileated woodpeckers have assured that these ghosts of time lost return to the loamy soil to make way for new life. They are a reminder that change is the only constant in this world, and that growth is the only path forward.

A graveled trail (the Lookout trail) splits a field growing on either side. It leads your eye off to the horizon where there is a tree line stark against a bright blue, slightly clouded sky.
Photo by Jaik Faulkner

I turn along a fork in the track, marked by a post picturing a soaring hawk from below. The Lookout Trail. Of all the trails at the Cincinnati Nature Center, this is one of the most meaningful to me.

In June 1991, my parents renewed their vows at the Lookout Shelter. I was 5 years old at the time and though there are few details that remain with me now, I can still recall sitting in the back of the car on the way there. I can still see the sun playing through the window and how I traced with my little fingers, the outline of leaves from the membership sticker that clung there. Everyone was dressed up that day, but I didn’t understand why. I just knew we were all going to the woods that I was growing to love. I remember the heat that day and the sound of their voices as we stood at the point that overlooks the valley below.

I sit here now and look down along that same valley. The sound of my parents’ voices replaced now by the songs of Northern Cardinals, Eastern Towhees, and blue-grey Gnatcatchers. The once wild valley below, now lined with years of development. One day in the future these faint memories will have faded and only the trees that were present that day will recall them, whispering the vows my parents spoke to one another until they, too, fade into the deafening silence of the past, perhaps with the help of the woodpeckers.

My parents' renewal vows:

As we stand here,

Everything before us is unknown,

Everything that has passed,

No longer exists.

All that there is, is this moment my love,

And spending this moment with you means everything to me.

For if ever two were meant to be one,

It is you and I my love.

So, as we stand here,

In this beautiful, wondrous world,

As it renews itself,

I renew my vows with you, with my words,

So you may know my heart.

And although the next moment isn’t promised to us,

If indeed it is granted,

I will spend it with you,

And all those that follow.

My Love, again, I give to you,

A heart that beats anew,

With life’s sweet songs we’ll sow,

Among these sacred plants that grow.

I’ll forever stay with you and be your love,

And again, all the pleasures we’ll prove,

That woods, hills, valleys, or fields,

Or groves and mountains yields.

Society seems all but rude,

To this type of delicious solitude,

But our love is truly abound,

And to this they utter not a sound.

And so, my Love, again I give to you,

A heart that beats anew,

With life’s sweet songs we’ll sow,

Among the sacred plants that grow.

A tree swallow midflight, preparing to land on a tall wooden post. The sky is blue and the trees in the background are without leaves.
Photo by Jaik Faulkner

As I make my return from the Lookout Shelter, I pause in the middle of the meadow and am greeted by a pair of tree swallows. Pulling out my phone, I play a sample of their flocking call from a birding app and within seconds, countless others join them as they circle around me, some of them flying within an arm’s reach, all chortling in a joyous cacophony that causes me to lose myself in their world and their story momentarily. This moment is one I’m certain the shagbark hickory will cherish as I do.

All of us have stories to tell about our time spent at the Cincinnati Nature Center, and these are just a few from a single perspective and a single lifetime. I’ve spent my entire life hiking here and have stories from every trail. Stories of falling in love and stories of heartbreak. Stories of days where time stood still, and stories of nights I wished would never end.

This is the gift that is given to everyone who has walked these trails and has felt their heart beat to the song of the forest. Though our memories and stories will inevitably fade across the span of time, our “soles” carry the weight of every step we have taken. One day my own story will come to an end, but you will still be able to hear it long after I am gone. All you need to do is go to the woods and listen to the trees.