Moses Cone Memorial Park, NC   Robert Leverett
  Feb 07, 2007 11:33 PST 

ENTS,

       In continuing response to Ed Frank's call for sharing of our
aesthetic forest and tree experiences, I thought my best course would be
to present offerings from two sources. The first is the "Jani Book", a
collection of writings I complied about my Native American wife Jani who
died in 2003. The second source will be reports on nature trips taken by
me and my new wife Monica. The accounts will interweave the experiences
of these two wonderful women with my own. In both accountings, I will
pay full tribute to two great women. "Hotel in the Forest" was the first
offering from the Jani Book.

Before turning to the second submission, I observes that in Jani's
passing, I thought I had lost forever a partner who shared my deep
connections to nature. But my new wife Monica shares those connections
fully, and through dimensions like those of Jani that may well exceed my
own. I have seen Monica utterly entranced at the sight of waiving
prairie grasses, become mesmerized by the ripples of water lapping
against a shore, reveling in the subtle changing light of late December,
and invigorated by the haunting sounds of the loon and the primeval call
of the Sandhill Crane.

    Below is a second excerpt from the Jani Book, relating an experience
that Jani and I shared on at least half a dozen occasions at a spot
along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Moses Cone Memorial Park

    Over the years, my dearly departed wife Jani and I traveled the Blue
Ridge Parkway many times. We ritualistically treked through secluded
woodlands to experience visual feasts at hidden overlooks, to sample big
tree sites, and sit by plunging waterfalls. On our longer treks Jani
would take frequent rests. Her arthritic joints would allow her only so
much physical activity. If she pushed beyond a point, she paid too of a
high price. So, on our walks, she might linger at a brook or sit under a
tree and wait for me. But there was a second reason for her stops. She
wanted to sense the wonders of the mountains in her own way, an Indianís
way. It was her private time to commune with the denizens of the forest.
She didnít need lectures and showering her with Latin names of species
imparted no special understanding for her. Although she was always
respectful of my explanations, I knew my facts and figures could become
burdensome to her. At times she just needed to be, as she would often
say, and I came to know when to give her space. I understood that Jani
could experience the power of special places because she drank directly
of their elixir. I connected mostly to their physical forms, but she
went deeper. Her connections to the spirits of the forest needed no
routing through the sensory apparatus or interpretive skills of her
husband. Her native faculties were her best teachers. I hadn't always
understood her deeper side, certainly not early in our marriage. But, as
I look back, observing Jani in the presence of nature gave me some of my
best insights into her Indian heritage, a bloodline that provided her
with her strongest bonds to the great trees that we both loved.

    One place for Jani where her powers seemed at their peak was in a
stand of shaggy, virgin hemlocks that grew in the Moses Cone Memorial
Park near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. The hemlocks were immense,
rising to great heights that provided me with ample challenges early on
in my tree-measuring life. Their hulking forms pierced through a
luxuriant understory of rosebay rhododendron, dog hobble, and mountain
laurel. At the right time of day, the dark green foliage of the heaths
contrasted with the iridescent green of Frasier magnolias to produce a
scene more tropical than temperate.

From a small Parkway pull-off, we would descend to the bottom of a
series of winding rock steps that dropped swiftly into a cove unknown to
those who sped along the Parkway hoping to sample all its scenic
treasures from the comfort of their vehicles. Once into the the grove of
giants, Jani would find a comfortable spot, sit down, and wait on me as
I scurried out a trail by a brook with the huge trunks of hemlocks and
tulip poplars. The trail eventually climbed out of the hemlock grove,
entered and crossed a pasture, and eventually wound its way up to a
small, seldom-visited lookout. From Janiís customary resting spot, it
was usually a two and a half-mile roundtrip jaunt for me. Not wanting to
be gone from her for very long, I would go quickly to the lookout. My
routine was always the same. I would marvel at the big hemlocks,
experience a sudden feeling of freedom as I crossed the pasture, and
then end my trek gazing into the slopes of distant Grandfather Mountain,
crowning jewel of the Blue Ridge. I would utter the exact same
exclamations on first spotting the craggy form of the Grandfather, reach
the small lookout spot, stand for a few moments staring at the
Grandfather's almost 6,000-foot bulk, and then spin around and return at
a gallop. I would be full of excitement, wanting to share with Jani what
I had seen and bemoaning the fact that she had not accompanied me. But
her gentle response was always the same. In her minds eye, Jani's
roaming spirit had made the trip, well ahead of me. Free of the surly
bonds of physical form, she would have traveled in thought, experiencing
the spiritual forms along the way of what I was seeing as physical
projections from that aboriginal world of dreams. When I attempted to
described the scenes I had witnessed, she would smile gently and
knowingly. I knew that she knew. I sensed that at some deeper level she
did not require an expenditure of physical energy, as did I, that her
meditative state provided her with a sublime connection to the great
trees, the rushing brook, the distant mountains, and the sky above - a
connection that surpassed the ephemeral satisfaction that I gained from
my conquering gait.

Bob

Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society