In Search of The Ancient Forest


Count the rings.

Sometimes you get lost in the best of intentions, those attempts at getting out into the natural world to soak in some rejuvenating nature. I thought a visit to the Ancient Forest was what my wife, Ronna, and I needed on a Saturday in early February. We’d been postponing our efforts to get there for a couple of weekends.

Let’s get lost.

I read about the Ancient Forest in a guidebook, a Christmas present for Ronna, called Oregon Nature Weekends by Jim Yuskavitch. I liked the book because it’s filled with 52 seasonal nature getaways. The book offers year round information, suggestions like where to see Blue Herons in March or geese gathering in January but it’s more than a guide for us geezer bird watchers. There are 50 other experiences detailed. While the book always seems to direct you to park in the middle of nowhere on a gravel road, the misty, black and white Ancient Forest photo filled me with a yearning to stand beside thousand year old trees. 

No moss appeal.

It proved elusive. As we set out, double checking the directions from the book using the car’s GPS, our route looked fuzzy. Ronna asked how old this book was. The publication date was 2000. Things have changed in twenty years. The book’s directions felt like going back to the prehistoric, preGPS days of scrawling out handwritten directions with a quill pen. At least we had specific cues like, “drive 0.7 mile down a winding, steep grade.” It was making Ronna apprehensive. The old and new technologies didn’t jell.

The Devil’s going down.

The directions weren’t better in actual execution. Finding ourselves in farm country outside of Gresham, a bluegrass version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” blaring in the car was an appropriate soundtrack to our surroundings. It should have helped us enjoy the journey, but feeling lost, we ended up on those gravel roads that kept turning into someone’s driveway. We slow rolled past houses and a horse riding school. The described hilly road never led to a gate and a trail. We ended up at Dodge Park where nothing was going on that rainy morning. The R.V.s weren’t even rocking. A couple of anglers ambled by and I read a sign about the various fish people were allowed to catch during various fishing seasons. We left for Ox Bow Regional Park.

An Ancient Forest is born.

The Ancient Forest is part of the Sandy River Gorge Preserve and owned by the Nature Conservancy. The book describes it as 436 acres in a 700 foot deep gorge with some of the trees being 500 years old. I’m not sure where I got the idea about meeting thousand year old trees. It didn’t seem to matter because the Ancient Forest was hidden among all the other trees.

Ancient Forest, map version.

We discovered from the map we picked up at the entrance that there was an ancient forest within Ox Bow Regional Park. It didn’t seem like it was The Ancient Forest I had been pining for, but it would have to do. It was labeled on the map. The forest trail was muddy and had devolved into puddles. Sometimes there were logs to jump from to avoid getting too deep in the muck. The hike paralleled the road so we never quite got to the middle of the forest. I never felt the presence of old trees.

Swiss trees!

This tale morphs into a sad tale, a story of never quite finding satisfaction from the contents of a book. That doesn’t mean we should stop trying to decipher written directions. Our GPS system may end up knowing some of the guides other locations without us having to pull our hair out to get back to nature.

This author talks to trees. (Photo: Ronna Craig)

The moral of this story seems quite obvious, as if every blog post should have a moral. Buy the most up to date guide book you can or you’ll end up in the backwoods as a wandering and forlorn nature tourist asking tree’s their birthday. Is there a better Ancient Forest that we’re missing out on? Who knows? Perhaps one tree is just as good as another. It’s all about making the effort to look around and see living things like old trees and new ones too.

Way down upon the Sandy River.

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