By Joyce Kilmer, Feb. 1913
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.
I’ve heard hugging trees can improve your health and whether it’s true or not, I sure felt better when hugging some of the grand trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in Robbinsville, N.C., earlier this month.
Immediately stepping onto the slightly muddy trail, I inhaled the familiar smell of earth. It’s a scent I grew up with while romping in the family woods in Western New York. The scent is a blend of decaying wood and leaves, moist dirt, and new greenery. It’s much different from what you’ll inhale in the Florida wilderness and areas around coastal towns.
My friend and I were in total awe while walking the 2-mile loop trail. As I watched my steps through mud, on rocks and over the occasional (small) snake, I tried to look up to see the tops of these tall trees. Many times we stopped to admire the intricate bark pattern or a tree’s complicated root system. Some trees had hallowed out holes, perfect for critters to rest or nest, yet the trees were very much alive.
We shared the trail with a few other hikers, yet it felt as though we had the forest to ourselves. Other than our “ooohhs” and “ahhhs”, the sounds we heard were birds chirping, the rustling of leaves from some unseen critters, a light wind passing through the branches, and rushing water through the river.
What’s It Like Hugging a Tree?
I’m pretty sure the trees called out asking to be embraced, yet I’m the one who benefited from this one-sided fling. I wrapped my arms around some wide trunks, pressed my chest and cheek against the cool, bumpy bark, then squeezed with my arms. While doing so, I inhaled the earthy aroma of each tree’s bark. During those moments, I felt connected and at peace with my environment. Tree hugging had a calming, relaxing effect on my soul.
Yeah, That’s Right. 400-Year-Old Trees
The Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest is 3,800 acres of an old-growth forest. It’s home to more than 100 tree species with many at least 400 years old. When tree hugging here, don’t expect to touch your fingers when wrapping your arms around the trunk, some of the trees are 100 feet tall and have a circumference of more than 20 feet.
The forest was set aside as a memorial to Joyce Kilmer, who penned the poem, “Trees,” in 1936 and was killed in action during World War I. He’s buried in an American cemetery in France. It’s maintained in a “primitive” state. As explained to me, this means trails are maintained with man power and not gas or electric power. If a tree falls over a trail, rather than cut it up with a chainsaw, it needs to be cut with a two-man hand saw. Picnic tables and a descent restroom with flushing toilets are available at the trail head.
Where to Stay When Visiting Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
My visit to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest was spontaneous. I attended a conference at Fontana Village located in the Great Smoky Mountains, N.C., and had a free morning. I had heard talk of this amazing forest and decided to check it out. The drive was about 50 minutes along winding roads with hairpin turns, hills and dips. If you have someone joining you for the ride, give them some Dramamine. Fontana Village is a great mountain resort and I hope to return for a vacation someday. Although Wi-Fi is strong throughout the property, cell phone service is poor. But hey, if you’re on vacation, who needs access to the outside world? It was actually refreshing.
Video: Admiring Trees in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest
View the video on YouTube if it doesn’t play above.
Tree hugging is something I need to do more often. If you haven’t yet, go ahead and give it a try.