A Day In Bryant Woods  

TOPIC: A day in Bryant Woods

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Date: Sat, Jun 7 2008 5:27 pm
From: dbhguru@comcast.net


Today Monica and I took a stroll through the woodlands of the William Cullen Bryant homestead, located in the small hill community of Cummington, Massachusetts. Bryant Woods is familiar territory, as all who read my posts will recognize. I have written about the site on many previous occasions. I usually focus on new measurements taken of special trees such as Monica's black cherry or an exceptional red maple that I always point out, and of course, I routinely report on the great white pines, trees for which the Bryant Woods are becoming increasingly famous. However, today, I am going to suspend my numerical ramblings, give the ciphers a chance to rest, as it were, and share thoughts more of a contemplative nature.
I'll begin by acknowledging a two-decade long love affair with the Bryant Woods. I will also acknowledge that I have, for just as long, been challenged to describe these woodlands to others beyond customary site descriptions, sprinkled with journeyman adjectives, which we use to describe woodland sites that inspire us. With the exception of the great white pines, by any ENTS numerical measure, the Bryant Woods are not overpowering. One experiences big-looking trees, but never huge ones, except for a few pines. However, once on the ambling Rivulet Trail, individual tree size or height does not matter. The focus shifts to more subtle aspects of the woodlands. Poetic thoughts materialize as desires for arboreal champions fade into insignificance. For a big tree aficionado, this pronouncement may seem strange, but Bryant Woods are not about contests. Those woods harbor gentle forest spirits, and most importantly, the enduring essence of the great man himself, William Cullen
When strolling through the Bryant Woods, my thoughts periodically turn to famous people of letters who, while living in New England, enthusiastically embraced nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson always comes to mind. Then there is the naturalist Henry David Thoreau whose insights are timeless. Bryant's impact is also timeless, on a slightly different path. He was the poet. As I walked along the pathway that Bryant used as inspiration for some of his better-known poems, I marveled at what manifested as an ability to gear down from the fast, human-generated pace of New York City to the natural cadence of the bucolic Berkshire countryside. While others might have babbled about investments, he turned his keen eye to wild flowers and the earliness or lateness of a bloom. It is apparent to me that Bryant was able to enter an elevated spiritual state when in his woodland domain. He always recognized the importance of untrammeled woodlands and expounded on his awareness through his rom
antic cadences. Today Bryant's poetry is anachronistic and ornate, yet it continues to communicate purity of feeling, connections to the land, and resonance with the natural harmony.
At one point on our return walk, I asked Monica if she would be willing to write a little essay on what she feels when walking in the Bryant Woods. She said that she would consider it. That was good enough for me. She needs a few more strolls in the woods before putting her impressions on paper. I hope she will share her thoughts when ready.
As Monica and I walked slowly back along the Pine Loop and Rivulet trails, I thought about what attracted me so much to the Bryant Woods. The pieces of the puzzle gradually assembled themselves to form a picture of balance. The woods possessed a kind of serenity, serenity connected to a gentle power to calm and sooth. Woodland features appear at just the right places: large spreading roots of mature yellow birches, shaggy old red maples, stately hemlocks that have endured a couple centuries of cold winters, black cherries that provide color contrast to the other species, a ground cover that speaks to long periods of development free from trampling feet. The list goes on, but these attributes could equally apply to other New England woodlands. I still hadn't nailed down the essence of the Bryant Woods. To do that one must leave the realm of the purely physical and its artistic extensions. One must enter the realm of spirit. To that end, I'm no closer to defining the elix
ir of Bryant's haunt, but then perhaps I just said it.
I should note that I did not return measurement free. Visiting Monica's large black cherry had been a personal objective of hers. The tree is a waypoint to help align one to the forest, to gain one's spiritual bearings. At the tree, I mechanically took its girth, much as a physician might take the temperature or blood pressure of a patient. Yet, I felt in no sense that the black cherry was a patient of mine or anyone else or anything else. It was not a trophy, but its solid 34-inch diameter produced a recognizable feeling of pride. Here was a handsome tree, no, a beautiful tree, that was valuable from many perspectives from the utilitarian to the spiritual. Monica's black cherry would not exist in the cutover woodlands that characterize most of New England. It would have been reduced to veneer long ago. No-nonsense lumbermen would have counseled against letting the black cherry stand. They would have pointed to dollars to be made and cautioned about quick economic decl
ine should the tree be left standing. The beautiful black cherry would have been taken down at a thickness of 14 to 18 inches, a mere youth, and we would have been robbed of seeing it in its full maturity.
I have often wondered what Bryant would say or feel were he able to come back in physical garb, for just a day, and walk through the woods of his youth, the woods of his senior years. Would he marvel at the splendid Bryant Pine grown so tall, be compelled to write verse in honor of the aging hemlocks, reconnect with the mesmerizing babble of the Rivulet that inspired his poem of the same name? I wonder. Maybe that is the way it is meant to be, to be left in a state of wondering.