A Secret Place, A Treasure in the Woods
The secret therapy of the trees, and the joy that they can bring
There’s this huge fallen redwood in Pfeiffer Big Sur that I used to crawl up the side of and lie on in the morning and evening. I picture it in my head quite often.
As it fell it had wedged itself between the mighty trunks of two of it’s relatives, hidden in a clearing among the massive feet of it’s fellows. I had imagined they had groaned as their old friend collapsed into their open arms. They must have felt as his roots weakened and disintegrated over the months and years previous.
The great redwoods have left a mark on me which I have carried with me since I first met them. Just between you and me, reader, I once attempted to recount their glory to a group of fellow English majors in a creative writing class at a university I previously attended. The story I wrote was as mysterious to them as the trees it stood for. The mystery I found wonderful was to them only confusing and unfamiliar.
They did not understand, in fact, they did not even enjoy the story I wrote for them, which they told me frankly. But it is of no matter, I appreciated their honesty at the time and I still do, but I can’t help feeling a little resentful, at least towards myself for apparently failing to capture the wonder behind the mystery of the great trees.
I suppose ever since having that story rejected I have been hesitant to attempt to recount my memory of the trees again, but I have decided to — at least for the sake of my own satisfaction and the wonder of the trees which I so desperately wish to share, if only I could find the words.
The trees provided a comfort to me which I could not describe at the time. When I am sad my imagination roams. I feel the loss and pain harbored by the world around me; as the sun falls on my soul the world is cast in a dull light. If no one knows my burden of sorrow, I think, at least the rain will cry with me, and the wind will wipe my tears away. But I have found that even the smallest bit of happiness is much, much sweeter in light of life’s tragedy, and tears well up in times of joy as well as sadness — it is death in contrast with life which brings beauty into the world.
Consider a flower blooming for a few weeks, it is beautiful. But let me suggest, it is the months of its absence that gives cause to look upon the flower, in all of its beauty and rarity. It is for this reason that the bride is the last one to enter the stage of her wedding — it is her absence that heralds her presence, similar to the flowers in the spring.
It is when I am at my lowest that beauty makes itself known to me, and it is in the deepest valleys and harshest sufferings that life and meaning seems to show itself by contrast. In the same way, it is the selfless nature of the redwoods which I find so beautiful to behold.
At one point, as my family and I had camped in Big Sur (that is, my Mom and my brother, as well as my cousin and his at-the-time fiancé), my brother and I had resolved to go up the river that ran through the campground as far as we could in a single day, in an attempt to find solitude.
I hesitate to share the name of the river with you, reader, because it is after all a secret place. And yet, there are few rivers in Big Sur as mighty as this one, and you can perhaps easily guess its name.
Even in the dry season the river had flowed strongly for millennia, cutting a deep canyon out of the hills which ran east for many miles. It roared with laughter as it stumbled and fell over the rocks and pools beneath its many falls — only to bounce back up again like a child who in the midst of it’s play had immediately forgotten the pain of it’s fall.
This river was the source of life in the campground and surrounding woods, it’s life giving powers were to be outdone only by the heavy coastal rains which fuel it.
But there isn’t much rain in the summer, and it is at this time that we had camped there. My brother and I woke up early to make the trek up the river barefoot, carrying only bottles of water. It made for a marvelous adventure, as we forever chased the unknown treasures around each bend and over each waterfall. We climbed many waterfalls, carefully balancing upon the log jams that hung perilously before their thunderous faces, like that scene from the Lion King, you know the one. Hakuna matata.
The many log jams and bridges proved interesting to me — I couldn’t help but think of my great friend back at camp, who had fallen to given me a seat high off the ground, and who was in the process of giving back the strength which he had drawn out of the deep wells of the earth for so many years, perhaps centuries.
These log jams were much the same, as the mighty trees which hung over the river would die, they would fall and become jammed in-between boulders, creating dams which raised the water level to the roots of their offspring, who rose joyously out of the deep canyons to catch the warm rays of the sun.
The trees are not greedy. They only glean from the earth and the sky what they can, and then fall back to give more than they took to start. It was under their shade that me and my brother swam, hiked and climbed, a few miles up river, till we were alone in the depths of the woods, the river bearing us on its back like a wild horse.
The towering cliffs bled cold spring water, and most of their granite faces were covered in hanging moss and fern, brilliantly green and bold. These scenes triggered in me a prehistoric memory—it reminded me of the set of Jurassic park, minus the threat of velociraptors or any other large animals, save a lonely mountain lion or two.
You might have thought we looked odd, wearing our bright colored swimsuits, struggling up river, our voices echoing in the halls of the temple of the giants, as we disturbed the bed of the river and clung to the sun-warmed rocks by it’s sides.
But we did not feel alien at all. Rather, we felt very much at home and welcome, although we were tired. And I think therein lies the heart of the mystery.
We live our lives blinded by new technologies, forever sitting in our dark homes and offices, lit by unnatural bulbs. I believe that in the absence of nature we too easily forget who we are.
The woods are a home to us older than our houses, or houses in general. Dear reader, do not be afraid to return to their open arms, with respect. And if you can see through the clouds of mosquitoes, and manage to peer into the dark shroud beneath the thick of the forest, you may find something very much welcoming and wonderful, if you have eyes — and the heart for it.
Allow me to share an entry in a journal which I wrote as the sun fell while I watched, sitting atop the aforementioned fallen giant, who so gracefully offered me a place to rest so far above the forest floor.
June 21st 2016,
The sound of our loud neighbors cannot drown out the silence of the Giants. Their roots mingle with the very foundation of the earth. The winds swirl around them, kissing their leaves and lifting the dust from their bark. It falls gleaming to the forest floor, revealed by the evening light. The sun’s beams pierce the canopy, warming the forest floor as well as the heart.
The smell of the forest fills the air, it is the Ent-draught, and it strengthens my bones.
A family of deer live behind our camp, a mother and her two fauns. One is small and lightly colored, with white spots in rows over its back, the other is brown and large,I think it is a young buck. Even now they are weaving their way between the great giants’ feet, beneath me.
I treasure every second in the house of the giants. My heart beats alongside of theirs; I think we are glad of each-other’s company. I wish I could be here alone [our neighbors are quite loud, people tend to be].
I hope never to forget the great redwoods. Their tops seemed to plunge forever upward into the sky, like the chains of many anchors might plunge into the the sea.
There is a treasure deep in the woods, and I bid you good luck in finding it, it may not be as hard as you think.