Even in the midst of spectacularly beautiful country, the DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove on the Idaho-Montana border deserves special recognition.
A plaque at its entrance tells of how the conservationist and historian Bernard DeVoto frequently camped here while working on his editing of The Journals Of Lewis And Clark (published in 1953, DeVoto’s version pared down the explorers’ thousands of pages to a more manageable 500).
DeVoto’s visits to the grove helped provide inspiration for his writing project and made such an impression on him that before he died, he asked that his ashes be scattered amid the trees.
While historians cannot say for certain that Lewis and Clark visited this particular glade, their journals describe a very similar place in this general area and so it is entirely possible they were once here. And regardless of whether they were exactly in this place or not, what a place for Bernard DeVoto to write!
When my husband and I visited, it took only a few steps inside the grove to realize we were on sacred ground. The red cedars there are centuries old and tower more than a hundred feet. The massive, shaggy giants had an Ent-ish feel about them (Lord of the Rings fans will get the reference), seeming like ancient and remote guardians of this high mountain forest. The sunlight filtering through their boughs had an almost an effervescent quality, and even with the soft murmuring of water from a nearby stream, a deep stillness enveloped the glade.
There’s something about large, old trees that speaks to something deep within us, isn’t there? I remember this same awed feeling coming over me in a redwood forest in California and in a stand of old-growth kauri trees in New Zealand. When a living thing gets to be that ancient, it becomes qualitatively different—-deeper, richer, more complex. Countless cultures across the world revere such giants, from the Druids and the ancient Greeks to the Maori of New Zealand. Perhaps it is because they make us feel small and weak–-the first step, often, on a spiritual journey. There is a kind of magisterial indifference about these trees, creatures to which we are but evanescent bubbles flowing by in the stream.
I envied Bernard DeVoto his many nights spent under those red cedars. And I thought too of Lewis and Clark and their men, those hardy adventurers who had walked and boated across half a continent. It was easy to imagine them here as well, peering upward into the barely visible tops of the trees. Even for travelers used to many outdoor wonders, these cedars likely would have impressed them.
Before we left that sun-dappled grove, I stood for a long time in front of the granite boulder that marks the spot where Bernard DeVoto’s ashes were scattered. How wonderful for him that he gets to spend eternity in this place, slowly being transformed into the new seedlings springing up in this cathedral of trees.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.