(Written on October 30th, early morning)
When your day starts with a 4 a.m. beach walk under the waning moon that casts silver light on breaking waves, anything and everything seems possible.
There, at Gold Beach Bluffs campground in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, I hatched a plan for the morning. The sun would not rise until 7:40 am. That gave me time to 1: Write. 2: Eat breakfast. 3:Tidy up and pack up the camper and 4: Head out for a run/walk with the camera in my vest daypack up the Fern Canyon Trail to the James Irvine Trail all the way to the inland headquarters on Prairie Creek and back—9 ½ miles. Then, I’d drive down Highway 101 until I could veer off onto the twisting Coastal Highway 1 at its northern point and drive as far as some tantalizing looking state parks near Mendocino.
I’m telling you this in retrospect for advice on such a day. Ideally? Just do the first part. Stay another night by that wild beach down that rough road. Walk with reverence on that 9 ½ mile glorious redwoods hike. Commune in Fern Canyon with the dipper who blinked from the clear waters only 10 feet away from me.
By the time I rolled into this state park at Little River south of Mendocino, it was nightfall. I’d driven directly into the western sun, pulled over numerous times to let speedy California drivers zip by, and alternately marveled at the views and gripped the steering wheel more snugly to keep attuned. (Steve is right to remind me—“Stay in your lane!”).
Before turning off the benign Highway 101 toward Highway 1, I’d stopped for gas in Garberville, pot capitol of the universe—smiling at the reggae-inspired young people leaning against rainbow-painted shops, and filling up my tank next to an adorable twenty-something couple in a battered VW bus with the words, “The journey is the destination” cut out in letters on the back window.
By day’s end, however, I was exhausted by the cumulative events of the day capped off by the zigzag, overly curving road that leads to far northern Highway 1. Worth it? Of course. The Pacific draws all comers to its surf pounding the black rocks, its headlands, sandy beaches, and seagull exuberance. I realized that while having a partner to share the drive would be so appealing, the solo experience also proves empowering. While on my own, I feel I’m still supported by all the people I love and care about. They’re coming right along.
Then, there was the misadventure of discovering state parks closed for the season and others that had a camping icon on my road atlas, but don’t allow camping now. I found out that Mendocino, while on the map looks tiny, in reality is jam-packed with hip California visitors engaged in spas, fine dining, and yoga retreats. Of course, what was I thinking? Any camping within a few miles was out of the question.
I passed one campsite early on the coast in that far north section that in hindsight would have been excellent. That’s traveling for you. I could have researched a bit more, but gypsies do not always think of consulting TripAdvisor. I write now tucked up a road into a forest by a stream. It’s peaceful before I head on down Highway 1 –slowly today with plenty of ocean stops, to reach my writing destination of Point Reyes by early afternoon and unite with Sandra.
Meanwhile, I’ve downloaded photos from the James Irvine Trail run and hike through the redwoods and the meander through Fern Canyon, remembering so clearly being there with my family when I was nine years-old and a ranger showing us caddis fly larvae in their homes of glued together needles in that same glass-clear stream below the living wall of lush, glowing green maidenhair ferns extending their fingers to catch the dew.
To write about the thousand-year-old redwood giants may present the greatest challenge ever. All I can convey now are a few thoughts from what turned out to be a five-hour “run.” When running on a trail through nature’s greatest church, it goes like this. Run five steps. Stop. Look up. Gasp. Walk 50 steps. Take out the camera. Run five more steps. It’s not a running trail. It’s a pilgrimage into the primeval breathing forest, where trees steam in the light that finally filters through by late morning.
Touch the thick, spongy, damp and creased redwood bark to feel the life of a revered elder. Place your ear close to a trunk that’s 20-feet across and listen to the wisdom. Crane your head back and look up and up to the dizzying height of trees pinnacling into the far away sky. Pause to wonder at the life of the forest floor –the brilliant orange fungi on tree bark, the perfection of spider webs woven in the night, the greenness everywhere—of ferns, moss, salal, and oxalis that looks like four-leaved clover. Lucky.
Spruce and hemlock grow straight to the heavens, joining the redwoods who have so much to tell us if we knew how to heed their words. The forest breathes. The forest talks. I hear the tinkle of winter wrens from the trickling creek, the high notes of golden-crowned kinglets, and the friendly conversation of juncoes and chickadees. Within that forest I also hear birds that I do not know, too, that stop me in my tracks to marvel once again.
I come to one tree greater in girth than the next. I gaze down a slope of giants and feel that this journey where I’ve seen no one in more than three hours has taken me into the inner soul of the Pacific forest. I breathe in a fragrance that is heady with humus and fecund life. It’s not raining, yet I feel the droplets of baptism. Here I am reborn. Here I am drawn into the forest life to a place where thoughts drift away entirely until I’m cleansed and at last can slip into the embrace of trees.