On a recent camping trip to the northern Mendocino coast’s Van Damme State Park, B. and I discovered that slugs and newts still cross the trails, and fungi still thrive in the moist, dripping wood that cooled us as we hiked along its fern-lined canyons. Lest you think California is totally out of water (I certainly did!), let me reassure you that lush, mossy forests still grow along the banks of big and little rivers, and that endangered steelhead and coho salmon still spawn in those waterways. In many Northwest Native American myths, salmon sacrifice themselves to feed people. To avoid offending salmon, special dances and ceremonies to honor this precious fish are often celebrated at the beginning of salmon fishing season.
We entered the forest of towering coast redwood and Bishop pine, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and we walked amidst their alternating stillness and susurrus in the wind, their ancient wisdom witness to centuries of natives, explorers, misfits, and vagabonds like ourselves. The trails were lined with miniature violets, the biggest trillium I ever saw – with tender, fragile leaves, salal, forget-me-nots, and – leaves of three, let them be! – poison oak. Further on, rhododendron, oak woodland, manzanita, and dwarf cypress opened into a pygmy forest. Belted kingfishers and huge, rare northern spotted owls, yellow warblers and Swainson’s thrush were just some of the birds sharing the forest with puma and raccoons.
Our hike-in environmental campsite was right on the spring-fed (non-seasonal) Little River, a lovely stream fully flowing under ten straight and arched bridges built by the California Conservation Corps. All was topped by a canopy of redwoods with a wonderful scent of citrus and of sun-baked bark. In the evening, our firepit shot out constellations of sparks that resembled miniature comets trailing upward into the sky. Because of the dense foliage we couldn’t see the entire lunar eclipse, but as we feasted on ripe huckleberries from the surrounding bushes, we were able to watch from a redwood trunk fallen across the river as the huge silver Harvest Moon rose over the forest, shining upon us and all the trees.