The Forest: Then, Now & Soon
by Patrick Dean
A year ago, Territory Run Co. published my essay about spring in Shakerag Hollow, an enchanted spot on Tennessee’s South Cumberland Plateau where I love to run.
As of now, Shakerag is blooming once again. The incredible amount of rain we’ve weathered over the winter will have made the wildflowers incredibly happy and full as they explode all over the steep slopes. No doubt the huge boulders that have detached from the bluff edge over the centuries are wearing carpets of moss and lichens.
The sun, moving northward every day now, will bring more of Shakerag Hollow out of shadow. Shafts of light will reach the steep north-facing side, where the trail contours for a couple of miles between Piney Point and Green’s View. My favorite birds, pileated woodpeckers, will make their wacky jungle cries as they slant through the beams of sunshine.
You may notice that I’m speculating, that I’m not giving you a present-tense description.
That’s because, this spring, even though it’s not five miles from my door, I’m not going to Shakerag. I haven’t been there since early March.
Its trailhead, right on the highway, was closed recently. Large numbers of visitors were continuing to park there and access the trail, even after safer-in-place measures were announced by the governor.
As a regionally-known outdoor destination, Shakerag lures wildflower lovers in droves every spring. We locals are typically happy to share with visitors from Nashville and Chattanooga.
Things are different now.
For the past four weeks, I’ve been running near my house, instead of in the woods. Asphalt, gravel, and short stretches of dirt nature trail stand in for the wilder places I love. Instead of seeing trilliums, I notice details of houses as I go by. There are no noisy creeks. It’s harder to feel apart, away, fully in nature.
But the good news is, while my world has changed so drastically, I know that Shakerag is still doing its thing. I can picture the trilliums, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and mayapples blooming in their profusion. I can hear in my heart the clear wild streams flowing over the boulders and straight down the fall line to Shakerag Creek.
They — it — have no idea what’s going on in the human world. Pandemics, wars, political or social turmoil: Shakerag without regard pushes forward its spring program of splash and color, takes it back and puts it away, brings out autumn’s and winter’s less-gaudy stage sets, packs them up again.
There, the world is not broken.
I don’t even need to be there, or to see it. Knowing it exists is enough. So is the thought that it continues on, whatever is happening out here in the human world. And so is the prospect of going back. After the wildflowers, after the pandemic, after the seasonal visitors: in the fall, in winter, Shakerag will be there.
And when it’s time, I look forward to being there too.