January Roses

Water for C Taber #4, Oil on muslin on wood, 2004, Leah Wilson

A Story Told by Water

Forest PreLight Leah Wilson

Pre-light, Leah Wilson

Pools of Light, Tunnels of Light


In the winter I arrive at the trail to run well before the sun rises. Before starting I stand in a landscape dotted with yellow light from the street lamps. As I begin to ascend from the valley floor to the ridge, the trees fill in the spaces that let in the ambient light of night. Darkness floods the forest. The pool of light in front of me from my headlamp is the only light I see. It makes the surrounding darkness even darker and more dense, like a wall, and I run toward a narrow tunnel of light.

I concentrate on where to plant my foot on the trail. Soon that awareness slips to a more automatic function of my brain and sounds flood my awareness. The creek is high. I hear it all around me. It was only an unnoticed whisper when I stood in the dotted light of the street. 

Setting the Tone and Rhythm

The trail leads up into the headwaters of Amazon Creek. It is not a single stream. It braids in places that I cannot see, under blackberry brambles and forest understory, as well as rushing down its main channel flowing on my right, then as I cross one of the many bridges, on my left, and back to my right. But I can hear that even as I cross the bridge, it is almost everywhere. 

My footsteps on the wet trail create a slapping rhythm that joins the creek’s rhythm. My breath, heavy now as I run up the steep slope, creates another accompanying rhythm that tries to fill my ears, pushing everything else out. If I am diligent, water remains the dominant sound that sets the ultimate tone and rhythm.

Lookout Creek - OldGrowth Trail

Image: Leah Wilson


Earlier in the night it rained. Small drips tap a light, rapid pattern. Large drips plop much more slowly. Water slides off the leaves of the Douglas fir, yew, and hemlock. Drip. Plop. Slap, slap, breathe in, breathe out, the rush of the creek over the rocks; this is all that fills my senses, until unexpectedly, punctuating the breath rhythm there is a strong fragrance of roses. Why does the forest smell like roses in January? I see no flowers. I see nothing at all except for what the pool of light directly in front of me illuminates. 

Water for C. Taber #4, Leah Wilson

Pejibaye Drops 5, Oil on muslin on wood, Leah Wilson

Shut out the light and align your breath to what you hear. You start to hear the stories that are told by water.

An hour later I begin to descend the same trail, imagining that I am water swiftly moving downhill, following the path of least resistance and creating elegant curves with steady movement. The first light of morning molds dark shapes around me. They slowly become more defined until at last, just minutes before I rush onto the street, I turn off my headlamp. As light of day and civilization surrounds me, it crowds out the music of the water. 

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