by Holly Lavender
If ever there were a little bit of paradise here on Earth then may be found beneath the sacred boughs of the ancient trees of the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. After a splendid day of whitewater with Ocoee Adventure Center, and a rather entertaining full moon evening of raft guide bonfire antics we went for a visit. Taking the scenic route from the Ocoee heading home to the Green River, Joyce Kilmer was the first stop. With two whole wheat sub rolls smeared with peanut butter and one banana for dessert, we hit the road.
The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was established July 30 1936, after great effort on the part of the Veterans of Foreign War. Beginning in 1934, they petitioned the government to honor one of their fallen with a fitting and living and lasting memorial. That fallen comrade was Joyce Kilmer, author of the widely read poem “Trees. ” His simple yet profound words capture the Universal Truths of the insignificance of man in the Grand Scheme of Things, and that Nature alone is Truly Divine.
The forest features a moderate 2 mile hiking trail consisting of an upper and lower loop. The canopy is amazing, although it is so dense at times that it seems almost oppressive. The tulip poplar reigns supreme in this forest that is the finest example of virgin cove hardwood in Appalachia. With several boasting some 450 years, give or take, they can measure up to 20 feet in circumference, climbing as high as 100. Other species include sycamore, beech, red and white oak, as well as the infamous hemlock, although they have been dealt a devastating blow from an invasive species from Asia, the wooly adelgid.
The once proliferous giant chestnuts were also wiped out in the thirties by another Asian blight, yet still there history remains visibly strewn about the forest floor, busy with the slow and gradual process of decaying and returning to the beginning. There does not exist a single inch of ground that is not simply bursting forth with indigenous beauty unless you consider the well worn and traveled footpath.
Mid March to May is the optimum window of opportunity to experience the dazzling display that is Spring in Joyce Kilmer. The list is too vast by far to be included in it’s entirety, so let me just name a few. Everything from crested iris, maidenfern, orchids, trilium, and violets can be enjoyed thruoghout. Most of these come in a variety of colors within their own species. Many medicinal herbs such as black cohosh, bloodroot, star chickweed, and wild ginger call this forest home as well, but remember, look but don’t touch.
Sadly, the Fall of 2016 brought with it devastating record wildfires. After a severe drought with rainfall levels 8 inches below normal, a total of 27 seperate blazes ravaged Nantahala and Cherokee. Incredibly, only one was found to be the result of a lightning strike. remember, only YOU can prevent forest fires! Fortunately, the fires never crossed the Santeetlah Creek, so the old growth of the upper loop was untouched. The forest service has applied for funding to help recover and repair the areas that did sustain damage. There is great optimism regarding the ability and process of recovery of the forest.
The Joyce Kilmer is Spectacular. It is Phenomenal, Breathtaking, and Humbling to say the least. It is all of these things and more, for the raw beauty alone, not to mention the fellow, for without whose life and death, reverence for Nature, and simple yet profound words, this gift would not stand before us. Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is a silent Teacher, welcoming all those who would stop and pause to listen. This Monument and Cathedral of the forest bears testimony and witness to the sheer magnitude of Nature’s Dominion if She is left to her own devices. So, if you do decide to take a Look~See, and I hope you do, remember, don’t forget the peanut butter or the WATER and don’t forget to tell your friends. They will surely thank you.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the Earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.