I suppose you start to take some things for granted when you live around them long enough. Living within a three-hour drive of Yosemite and then in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, great seemingly unending expanses of forest seemed like one of those things.
Now move me to the Isle of Man, which has been settled for over three millenea. Anything vaguely resembling a tree has been cut down to make a ship mast or a building or firewood. I mean, though I like our verdant England, you only understand how much you miss the forest when it’s not there.
Which brings me to the “plantations”. Of course, to an American, the word promptly conjures up images of cotton fields in the pre-Civil War deep South. Here, they have grown stands of pine trees, creating small evergreen “fauxrests” (© me, 2013). Weirdly, they’ve planted the pine trees in neat orderly rows like good British soldiers, so you can see from one side of these things straight through to the other. I find it disconcerting (the whole point of a forest is that you should be able to lose yourself in it), but any port in a storm.
So it was a few days ago when I went for a power walk (thinking that a run with my stent in was not my best bet) and headed up into the nearby plantation. I’d had a long hard-ish day at work but then had a relaxing 30-minute peace and quiet time at home. I decided I needed to use that good energy and suited up and headed out into the unwontedly warm and sunny late afternoon.
And man, it felt good to be out in the woods. The songbirds, one of the more attractive features of the Manx countryside were killing it, shipping songs yonder, over, under, everywhere. Even the car sounds were relatively indistinct.
I power-walked down the paths, cutting through the forest or along the road. I leapt over branches and mud puddles, ultimately keeping up a 15-minute mile (4 mph) pace, which is a nice brisk walk. I went down hills, up them, and across them. I mean, was it like hiking Bent Creek? Of course not. But I cannot describe how good it felt to have a forest canopy over me and pine needle carpet under me.
I alternated between having the headphones on (“Free Falling”, “Rare Bird Alert”, and “Galway Girl”) and pausing the music (which I never do) to let the birdies provide the soundtrack. And somewhere in there, having gotten as deep as one physically could into the place, I realized that the key component of a forest is whether it provides sufficient habitat for faeries, sprites, and the other creatures that make such a place magical. I concluded it did, and that made me happy and content.
Ultimately I racked up five miles, felt great, and headed on in, dripping in sweat and forest exercise-induced endorphins. There were mud splatters all over my shins and calves – it felt really good to see them there.
Finally, I have to say that wandering around the little fauxrest, I just felt there was one thing missing that would have made the experience perfect. But as with anything that we need on the island, there’s always one go-to solution…