Jacob’s move to the Pacific Northwest came shortly after college. He’d heard good things about the region and he longed to get away from the Upper Midwest. Jacob grew up in Stevens Point, Wisconsin and, after getting a degree in Environmental Studies from UWSP, he needed more than city life could offer. He longed to be closer to the natural wonders and wildness that states like Oregon and Washington seemed to offer.
His move to Eugene, Oregon in 2021 was a life-changing experience. While Jacob certainly missed his friends and family back home, his life among the gigantic trees, magnificent waterfalls, and craggy coastal areas of Oregon took his mind off his home two thousand miles to the east.
Jacob’s first real job out of college was working at Spearhead Technologies as a Geographic Information Systems analyst. It provided some great experience in a field he was beginning to love. Some of his project work involved timber logging impact studies and other environmental analysis, which fit well alongside the focus of his undergrad degree. While he understood logging was a necessary industry, he also was fiercely protective of all trees. The college courses in forestry management in ecology he’d taken in school had been among his favorites. Jacob was also a camping and fishing enthusiast, so it only made sense that protecting the resources around those activities gave him purpose and a cause worth fighting for.
Songs by The Gorillaz thumped from his stereo as Jacob’s black compact bent and groaned around the curves along the craggy Oregon coast. It seemed around every turn was a vista more stunning than the one prior. A soft, misty rain drifted down as the intermittent wipers cleared the windshield, giving him ten seconds of clarity and focus between passes. Huge basalt rocks thrust upward offshore giving the coast a personality with punch.
These rocks told stories millions of years old. Stories of fire and volcanism, of heating and cooling; change and renewal. Their history was as real to him as the rising of the sun each day. He wasn’t sure if this reality was because of the courses he’d taken, or if he had some innate connection with the earth that others maybe didn’t. Jacob smiled to himself as the thought passed through his mind. Huh, like you’re something special, Mister Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies. What, do you think you’re some sort of Nature Buddhist monk or something? Conversations with his id had come more frequently since he’d moved to Oregon in part because he was alone so much. He trusted it was just part of that normal inner voice that everyone has.
Jacob cruised south on Highway 101, high above the roiling Pacific. He was headed across the border to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California to hike among the Sequoia. He’d seen his share of towering Douglas Firs in his short time in Oregon, but it only made him want more. That is so often the case with natural beauty. An immersion into it, for people like Jacob, provided a sense of calm and serenity that just wasn’t possible in urban environments. Based on research he’d done he knew that the Redwoods would be a step or two above any majestic Doug Fir he’d seen, so he’d made it a point to set aside a weekday to make the trip to hike among them.
He pulled into the park and purchased a day pass using the drop box at the vacant entrance booth. The Civic hummed down the winding highway into the park as the magnitude of the trees began to come into view. His goal was the Grove of the Titans Trail. His online research mentioned it was one of the better trails in the park.
When he came to Howland Hill Road he could hardly believe the GPS was leading him the right way. It was a narrow, rutted, often steep road. One better suited for an SUV than for his Civic, that much was sure.
“Wow!” he said to himself as he took in the magnitude of the trees. He knew that talking out loud to himself was a weird thing to do, but he couldn’t help it. Trees with unfathomable trunks stretched and yawned skyward. They stood sentinel and towered above, reminding him that he and his little vehicle were tiny and insignificant in this cosmic and holy place. The car purred, disrupting the stifling quiet as Jacob piloted his way to the trailhead.
When he saw the sign for the Titan trail, he pulled over to a wide spot on the road and parked. There was no one else around on this Tuesday morning, which was fine with him. He loved his solitude, especially in the forest. He stepped out of the car and made his way to the trailhead. The air was heavy and humid and the damp ground almost seemed to sweat. He looked skyward and into a delicate luminescent fog drifting among the branches of the Sequoias. It seemed to linger there providing hydration for the thirsty boughs. A tree of this size likely needed plenty of water. It seemed to Jacob like the trees took what was given and gave back in respiration.
As he stepped down the trail, Jacob was overwhelmed with a sense of smallness. He’d been around skyscrapers in cities, but this was different. Way different. There was something about being among these giants thrusting from the earth that etched an imprint on his soul. Above him somewhere was the sun, but the tree canopy only allowed random shafts of light to slice through. Where it did, the low lying ferns drank it like whiskey. Jacob wasn’t a terribly religious person, but he knew for sure, if there was a god, he or she was certainly dwelling among these trees. “Thank you for all of this, God,” he whispered, grateful for everything around him.
“Tell me more of this god you speak of.”
Jacob stopped in his tracks. He listened for a few seconds. What the hell? Was that real? He shook his head to clear it, attributing it to his inner voice, then continued walking.
“Human thing, who is god?”
He stopped again. He’d definitely heard it that time. It was a gruff, gravelling whisper of a voice, but one he could not dismiss as being in his head. Determined to see if it was real, he answered in a low voice, “Who said that?”
“It is we and us – all of my family, human thing.”
“Uh, okay. And who is we?”
“I asked you first. Who is this god thing?”
He spun around and looked deep into the trees to see if there was someone hidden away playing some sort of weird trick on him. Nothing. “Well, from what I was taught, God created everything. It is said that God can’t really be described.”
“Hmmm. Sounds more like Ethangora to we and us.” There was a momentary whisper of wind among the branches that shivered overhead. It almost seemed like the trees were acknowledging what had just been said.
“So I told you who God is, now, who are you?” Jacob said quietly to the apparent spirit that was speaking to him.
“We are us and us are we. We are the trees but we stand not alone. For without the dirt within which we rest, we are nothing. Without the ferns shading our roots, we are lonely wooden shells. Without the animals, insects, birds, fungi and even the moss, we are not we, but I, and Ethangora has absolutely no time for I.”
Jacob stood there dumbly. Am I losing my mind? Trees just don’t talk. He walked on but continued the conversation.
“So Ethangora is your god, then?”
“Hmrr, hmrr, hmrr,” the trees seemed to laugh. “No, human thing. At least not in the sense that you describe your god. Ethangora originated from we and us. Ethangora is the forest spirit but also an ethos, a system of beliefs and values. Unlike your god, this ethos cannot stand above and apart. Rather, it must come from within we and us. Things passed down from above creates a hierarchy leading to jealousy and desire for power. All goodness comes from the corporate whole of we and us, never from I.”
Again the trees shivered their agreement; a natural standing ovation.
When it quieted, the tree continued in its low raspy voice, “Ethangora both guides us and is us. If it helps human things to understand, we came from Ethangora who is life, and therefore we and us are here to foster and nurture all of life. It is why we welcome the diversity of our home, our ecosystem, as human things call it.”
Jacob nodded his agreement. He’d grown comfortable speaking to these sentinel beings and couldn’t help but feel he was learning something too. It was apparent that his trail location meant nothing. The speech from the trees seemed to follow him along, maintaining its low gruff voice as he traversed the undulating path through this holy cathedral of the natural world. The forest as a whole enveloped him in its essence.
“Then what of fire? How do you and they perceive it and explain its threat? It certainly can’t be sanctioned as good by Ethangora.”
“That is a good question, human thing. We have lost many of us and we to the power of fire. With all due respect though, we have lost many more to the saws of human things. With fire we stand together with a fighting chance. Many have lived through fire and yet, none touched by the saw have survived. Fire has its purpose in Ethangora, but saws only kill for killing sake. There is no goodness in its teeth, only death.”
“You realize that I love nature and studied it in school. I could never cut down a tree,” Jacob said in his defense.
“But you humans are not of we and us. Do you all not possess the same desire to kill and conquer?”
“No, we do not, however that is where we differ from you and they. While your essence is centered around goodness for the whole, we humans have that but also we have a strong pull for I. I is greed. I is power. I is selfishness. I often comes to the surface and takes over. Wars were fought for I. Marriages between two people are wrecked by I. People are hurt by I. Come to think of it, anytime I comes before we, not much good comes from it.”
“Pfh, pfh, pfh.” A light mist began breaking through the canopy. Jacob wasn’t sure but it sounded like the trees were crying. Crying for the makeup of humanity, like we were the ones in need of enlightenment. The forest air hung heavy with sadness.
“You are wise for your age, human thing. I and us have been honored to speak with you today. You need to continue your journey to truth and symbiotic unity. I and us will leave you to enjoy the rest of your time in our home observing silence. I and us wish you peace and contentment during your time on this magnificent and fragile Earth. Your time here is short compared to us. Use it wisely. Remember the essence of Ethangora. May you see it in everything you encounter here forward.”
And with that, the trees silenced.
“Wait, are you still there?”
The sweeping boughs of the trees only whispered in the misty skies.
Jim has four published memoirs: At the Lake, Cretin Boy, Dirty Shirt: and The Portland House. He also has five poetry collections: Thoughts From a Line at the DMV, Genetically Speaking, Reciting from Memory, Written Life and On a Road. His nonfiction has been published in Main Street Rag, The Sun Magazine, and others. His poetry has been featured in Orchard Poetry Journal, Blue Heron Review, and many others. He lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin with his wife and enjoys fishing, kayaking, biking and camping. Jim was the 2018-2019 poet laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin.