I recently purchased Hank Meal’s, The River, a local’s guide to hiking trails surrounding the Yuba River. On a rainy afternoon, my friend, Kitten, and I got cabin fever; we opened Hank’s book and chose the Rock Creek Nature Trail (located in the Tahoe National Forest) as our tonic. Once the site of a lumber mill, Hank described this one-mile loop as an easy and accessible trail that meanders beneath 11 varieties of trees and alongside Rock Creek.
“Looks like we have the place to ourselves,” I beamed when we pulled into the empty parking lot.
The ground was completely saturated — water pooled around our every footstep. Light rain floated to earth, accompanied by large, sporadic drops falling from tree branches, tapping an intricate percussion on land and water. The creek rushed past us, beckoning us onwards.
“Look at all this debris,” Kitten said. “These recent storms have been brutal!”
“The other day, I saw a group prayer going around Facebook asking for the storms to be gentle on the forests, and I don’t know how I feel about that.”
“California needs water. I’m not eager to pray the rain stops.”
A stream carved its way down the hillside and onto the path, turning the path into a waterway and making us walk along its edge. Branches, leaves, and pine needles littered the area, and the Rock Creek Trail felt less like a nature walk and more like a rugged adventure, like we were the first explorers. At one point, we had to climb over a large, fallen tree.
“All this damage is from the drought,” Kitten said. “Tree roots retract closer to the trunk and become less dense. And the branches die. So when a big storm hits, it uproots trees and branches fall.”
“Now I bet this will be a tinderbox in summer — this and every other forest in California.”
“Let’s hope not! If we get enough rain, the dead stuff will get mushy and become fertile. With fewer trees and branches blocking out the sun, new life will grow. Regeneration is one of the most incredible aspects of nature, in my opinion. Didn’t the guidebook say this land was harvested for timber not long ago? I wonder what that looked like!”
“I hope we get the rain, too, of course. Shame if it burns. I’d rather see the land heal.”
“Did you know illegal campfires start a lot, if not most, of California’s forest fires? The drought makes everything dry, but it’s singular humans messing up on top of that.”
“Hitting Nature from both sides: the macro and the micro.”
We passed what Hank described as a relaxing welcome bench, knocked out of the ground and thrown on its back.
“I’m ready for all humans to live in harmony with Nature.”
“Now that’s a good prayer.”
We stopped to inspect a fallen tree. It made a sturdy bridge over the creek and it’s roots were exposed in an unchanged unit, still holding rocks they had grown around.
“This makes me think of my inner work,” I said, ducking beneath a branch.
“What do you mean?” Kitten asked.
“Self-reflection can sometimes hurt. After a long period of unconsciousness or trauma, like a drought, the medicine of awareness can feel destructive — it’s painful to look on all aspects of myself — lessons can be hard, truth can hurt. Guilt, disappointment, shame, and anger surface. And when that happens, it feels like I’m being destroyed. Like my guts are being ripped out or my heart torn apart.”
Water cascaded down the creek bed over rocks and debris, navigating curves, eddies and pools.
“I think the commitment,” I continued, “is to give myself sustained compassion, like rain, so that which has been knocked over can become the fertile grounds for new life — or a bridge to enlightenment. To continually give myself compassionate attention and embrace myself instead of pushing myself away — that is the way.”
“I see. If you have the painful, seemingly-destructive insight and you don’t follow it up with compassion, it’ll catch on fire and consume you when someone starts an illegal fire,” Kitten said.
We crossed a wooden bridge before we completed the loop. Birds sang from the moss-covered trees, while a soft and steady drizzle, almost a mist, enveloped the forest.