Attached is a write-up from Bob Morrison on our recent Dunbar Brook outing. I'll let Bob do the talking, as he so eloquently does in the attachment.
BEYOND WORDS: The Infinite Treasures of Dunbar Brook
By Bob Morrison
You might think it would be easy to find words to describe my recent visit to Dunbar Brook with Bob Leverett. I am a writer, after all. As always, Bob offered an endless series of details about the oldest and largest trees we were seeing. Their tell-tale bark characteristics, their age, their circumference, their height. He even measured some of the outstanding giants to get their latest statistics, using his high-tech devices to zero in on the crown high above us and applying trigonometry. He also pointed out the smallest natural wonders, such as the carpets of foam flower blooming with their delicate and ethereal cluster of tiny blossoms in the thick and luxurious ancient forest floor.
At the same time, his appreciation of the unique esthetic appeal of this gorge became clear. Ancient yellow birches, with peeling bark, draping their giant roots over boulders as if sculpting themselves in a wild Zen garden. The endlessly magical moving sculpture of Dunbar Brook itself, its waters flowing in cascades and rapids and clear pools and bubbling eddies over and around a streaming path of rocks, boulders and fallen tree limbs.
At one point, we paused by the brook’s edge, about to bushwhack further along its banks. I found myself hearing Bob’s litany of tree statistics as a kind of babbling brook, expressing his love of this particular forest in every language he knew how, or as if the forest was finding words to describe itself in a way that humans would understand.
Bob knows well that this forest’s future depends now and forever on policymakers who had nothing to do with its creation, but much to do with its survival, and that they need to hear statistics to recognize its unusual qualities. In fact, even those of us who merely want to enjoy the forest can more fully appreciate its wonders when we understand that they are truly rare and outstanding.
Most of us need someone to point that out, lest we wander through unaware of what we are immersed in. The stands of enormous bigtooth aspen. The ancient yellow birches adorning the boulders. Red maples much larger than ever imagined by we who call them “swamp maples.” A huge black cherry tree with its intricate corrugated bark, towering up into the canopy, creating a natural craftwork more marvelous than any that man could fashion out of its prized hardwood. Graceful and mighty white ash rising into the leafy sky.
A special highlight was the Henry David Thoreau white pine, nearly 160 feet tall, its crown seemingly up near cloud height, our necks straining back to behold its stature. But the experience is more than height, more than words, more than any particular detail, though it includes them all.
Bob recalled an autumn day 20 years earlier, climbing the slopes of the opposite bank of the brook with his son Rob, and seeing this majestic pine looming high and green above the brilliant fall deciduous foliage. Younger and faster then, he ran down the slope, forded the brook and clambered up to this particular tree, which magnetized him to it like a charismatic prophet. No wonder he named the tree after America’s grandfather of ecology.
That encounter was Bob’s epiphany, that these trees, and all the wonders of such special places, must be known. That meant measuring and monitoring and comparing them with other trees in other forests. That meant informing those who might protect them and sharing them with those who might love them. To that task he has scrambled up and down seemingly every nook in these dense and delightful wonderlands of western Mass, discovering what was once thought lost or never there at all. Those of us lucky enough to have met Bob and followed him into his favorite sanctums have discovered just how much we have so close to home.
The ancient spiritual texts in many traditions speak of finding the hidden treasure that is always available to us, if only we know how to look. Like the parable of the impoverished man living in a ramshackle shack built atop buried gold, never digging just a little below his accustomed life to discover the untold wealth that is his birthright.
Bob does the digging, so we can all behold what we have. But it must be cherished. And the only real way to do that is beyond facts, beyond words, to enter the forest oneself, to feel from within what it is like to be part of such a wondrous form of being.
That is what we did at our last stop on Bob’s long and winding trail this past weekend, when he led us to the ancient white ash that towers above a narrow path traversing the steep north-facing slope of Dunbar Brook. This is the state champion white ash, the largest and surely the oldest in Massachusetts.
I stood facing it, as if communing with a deeply rooted version of myself (and all of us), and then let my eyes follow its sinuous corrugated trunk upward to where its highest boughs and leaves floated in the sky, and my spirit with them. Then, as Bob described some of its particular facts and features, I found myself sitting against its base, nestled against its roots. Closing my eyes, I felt welcomed into its ancient embrace as if into the very source of things, far older than us, as old as the universe itself, the timeless place from where we all come and to which we all return. Then I opened my eyes and gazed out as if with the tree’s own love for this forest and all that grows or walks or crawls or flies within it, appreciating all as the infinite treasures they are.
We must have such trees, such forests, such wonders in our lives, to truly know this world and ourselves, to discover anew that what is most precious grows unbidden in the midst of our deepest nature. Thus have I become a babbling brook myself, and tried to put into pitiful words what the forest says better for itself, better than anyone, even Bob.