“Nothing in the world is good or bad but thinking makes it so.”–Hamlet, William Shakespeare.
Perception is everything; our frame of reference, cultural, geopolitical, spatial and temporal, have everything to do with how we see the world and what we think we may know as a consequence. One of the things I love most about the redwoods is that they defy the conventions of western reductionist thinking and refuse to be fully seen or known or represented by such mundane and simplistic means.
The old-time loggers used to say that it took, “two men and a boy,” to see all the way to the top of a redwood tree; no photograph, no matter how magnificent, no assemblage of imperfect and subjective prose or poetry, and no ecologist, nor lumberman either, has, nor likely ever will, be able to encapsulate the magic, mystery, stature, and grace of these trees. In each tree dwells the secrets of eons of evolution, as well as stories that, try as we might, humans will never truly know or be able to recount.
It has been far, far, too long now, some eight months, since I last make the trip up to Redwood National Park to sequester myself away on the quiet wilderness of the gravel bar of Upper Redwood Creek, and to take communion once again in the greatest of all the remaining cathedrals that house the mighty ancient pillars of the gods, Tall Trees Grove. Here, along the alluvial flats of what should rightly be called Redwood River, time, nature, and whatever intelligent or accidental design otherwise, have created the most perfect of masterpieces. The tallest living, breathing things on earth, here stand, reaching for the sky, their roots planted in the ground, and interwoven with one another. Walking into Tall Trees Grove sparks the imagination far beyond western thought or reason, and indeed, shakes the fundamental premise upon which these are build to its core.
In recent years, the Upper Redwood Creek gravel bar and Tall Trees Grove have become places of frequent pilgrimage for me as I desperately strive to strike a balance of energy expenditure and recharge. This time, I only had a single overnight to spend given my myriad of other responsibilities. I entered the area via the Tall Trees Access Road and Parking Area, reasoning that a shorter hike in and out would leave me with more time for repose and recharge. As has become a regular habit, I hiked myself and my gear down the one-and-a-half miles of the Emerald Ridge Trail from the parking lot down to the creek and the gravel bar. I had hopes of setting up camp in my usual cove hideout, but while the creek levels were finally low enough to facilitate easy fording, the creek width has still not receded to the point where my normal haunt afforded a spot for my tent. I opted to simply ford across to the south side of the gravel bar across from my usual spot, and immediately found a wonderfully suitable place to call home for the evening.
The water was still cool, but this did not prevent me from taking my first swim of the year in Redwood Creek, as the pre-noon sun even then seemed unusually oppressive. As I swam, the cold did it’s best to bite, but I could nevertheless feel the old, dead, and dying ills and worries of the previous long, cold, wet winter begin to cast off from me and sail downstream on the rapids, rushing out to sea. The sounds of the rapid, and the wind in the tall trees above me on the upslope, gave me a great sense of gratitude and peace.
By mid-afternoon, I had made the ascent back up the one-and-a-half-mile Emerald Ridge Trail to the junction with the Tall Trees Trail, and was now winding my way down into Tall Trees Grove. The ground leaf-litter was pocked with subtle and delicate pink flowers recently fallen off the late-blooming Pacific Rhododendron, adding a flash of color and elegance amidst the deep greens, reds and browns of the forest. As I came down off the hill onto the flat and into the grove, I came upon my usual pondering-bench. There, I decided not to sit, but rather, to simply lie prone, flat, completely on the ground and look up.
From this point-of-view, the sky was shrouded by a menagerie of branches, needles, and trunks and canopy, and had it not been for the mosquitoes, I might still simply be lying there. The quiet of this place is simply indescribable, and the earth beneath my body seemed to sap and suck all my stress, angst, and worry down, deep into the ground below.
I was hedging my bets that my timing was such that I might be lucky enough to catch ambient afternoon forest twilight conditions to allow for maximum value and artistic effect from whatever photos I might take. The mid-afternoon late spring sunshine did not disappoint, as trees in this great grove were set alight with an auburn fire beam that caressed and illuminated the pin-striped red-bark in certain spots, but only if seen from just the right angle at just the right time. Knowing I had these kind of conditions, I decided to take two traverses on the one-mile Tall Trees Grove Loop Trail over the period of a few hours, and to go in different directions for each. The results were simply magic.
Not only did I catch fire beam glowing redwoods, but also ancient big-leaf maple trees, dripping with green mosses and lichens, bathed in perfect sun, and offering elegantly artistic images as the sunbeams poked here and there among the massive trunks and elephant-sized branches. This corner of Tall Trees Grove, the niche of the ancient hardwoods, is as if another world encapsulated inside another world, offering beauty, diversity and splendor for the eye to behold and for the spirit to contemplate.
My ascent out of Tall Trees Grove and subsequent decent back onto the gravel bar upstream and back to my camp left me with thoughts beyond words, and impressions beyond images. And, as I laid on my pad in my tent, with my feet facing downstream, the peace I felt, and the respite and recharge I found had me feeling blessed, beyond fortunate or “lucky,” and very humbled.
My morning-after consisted of a quick breakdown, snack, and repack, and the one-and-a-half-mile uphill climb back to the parking lot and my car. As I climbed, I pondered, more in feeling and impression than in words or thought, my place and part in all of this; I have dedicated my adult professional and personal energy to the idea of restoring the redwoods in places lost to logging in the past, with the largely unspoken presumption that such conditions as used to be might be recreated again. And so, when I see a place like Tall Trees Grove, I also see the potential and the possible for elsewhere; this gives me great hope, for the forest, for humans, and for our planet, to know that there yet still lives a chance to get it right.