The sunset brought darkness quickly to the forest, but I stayed outside the tent, reluctant to go inside as one might be reluctant to leave the side of a friend on the verge of his last breath. Standing in the small clearing, I turned around slowly, surveying the stalactites of dim light that hung down between the tree trunks, detaching myself from the forest’s fate. I stood there silently to take in the moment, a moment in which this forest, my forest, was not doomed, but intact and timeless. This, I told myself, is how I will remember it.
Finally, I went inside the tent. As I zipped into my sleeping bag, I was jolted nearly out of my skin by the metal-on-metal screech of a cougar, somewhere on the mountain above me. The cougar snarled twice more as it moved through the forest, traversing the slope from west to east. Its voice was the last thing I remembered hearing until morning, when I was awakened by another sound, fainter but no less jarring. It was the sound, distant but wholly unmistakable, of a chain saw.
Tom Clynes wrote about tree-climbing school in our September 2004 issue.