– 12/31/10: An enchanted New Year’s Eve, the last night of a year that passed way too rapidly. Cold! Windy! Freezing, literally! Rain, hail, and even some unexpected snow, deep in the mountains of redwood country in northern California. Earlier today, walking from our camp at Prairie Creek Redwoods on the James Irvine Trail to Fern Canyon and the coast, I was awestruck by these quiet behemoths, these silent giants. Their presence is felt, not just seen, and is impossible to convey in words or pictures. Much has been written about them, much of what I felt has already been expressed far better than I can do. And still: to be among these vast beings that seem to exist both within and outside of time. Eternity itself. Small wonder people have long thought they house very old spirits.
Standing on a bridge, I saw falling away from me silvery runnels of swollen Redwood Creek, a liquid mirror. This, after a 10-mile walk to the coast over trails carpeted with fir and redwood needles, lined with large dinner plate or fine pink or white coral mushrooms, and Sitka spruce, tan bark oak, maple, bay, and Douglas fir. Later we stopped in the nearby town of Orick for firewood and wine, and a local fellow’s eyes widened when he saw our four packages of wood. He said, “I hope that’s for your house!” and couldn’t believe we were camping in this 30° (and below) weather. Back at our campsite, B. set out camp chairs, opened some wine and started a fire, and laid out our dinner. We sat by our fire pit, under our large umbrella, for hours in a light rain, even dancing at times to keep warm, celebrating our 10th anniversary of being together. Hard to believe it’s been so long, the years have rolled by so fast it’s felt like a dream.
The next day we drove up to Jedediah Smith State Park. Although Humboldt Redwoods and Redwood National Park are spectacular, they cannot compare to these old-growth giants in the Stout Grove, or those along the Boy Scout Tree Trail. As soon as we ventured out on that trail, we encountered nearly no one, surrounded by trees twice or three times bigger than any we saw elsewhere. The trail, muddy and overgrown, and the eldritch wood surrounding it with deep canyons and gullies, look as if nobody has set foot here for thousands of years. And here, even more than in the other forests, peering through magical shafts of sunlight briefly penetrating the penumbral gloom, I felt we were in the presence of wise souls that have stood sentinel here, witnessing humanity’s ephemeral folly, for millennia.
To walk in the shadows of Roosevelt elk, spirits soaring with the eagle, seems to be what life is really about – to feel united with all this, at one with nature even though she doesn’t open her arms in a warm embrace, as romantics like me often envision – rather, she exists only to exist, and her species only to survive, and we – small and foolish as we are – play our part.
Sometimes a crow, raven, or smaller bird broke the silence, but otherwise there was nothing except the rushing of the stream and the wind rustling the crowns of the tall trees. Here and there we spied a real giant among the giants, even fatter in girth and rising as if on steroids in a wide clearing far above the rest, out of the mist. It was magnificent, humbling. We were not able to make it to the end of the trail, because dark falls fast in the forest, so we returned to our campsite for the last night of our trip, and a sky glittering with what B. termed a “confusion of stars.”