Our camping trip was, like so many experiences lately, just what we needed. We had the opportunity to go home. That is, we went to the Humboldt Redwoods. J and I both spent over a decade on the Humboldt coast (I know; I’m revealing a lot here!), and most of those years, we spent loving the Humboldt Coastal Redwoods. So when the opportunity arose to go camping with our very best friends in one of our very favorite places, we were thrilled, despite the long, long, long drive. This long, long (long, long) drive was beautiful though. It had been months since we had seen mountain after mountain covered in giant trees, since we had been somewhere where heavy traffic was four or five cars passing by the same spot in over the course of a couple of minutes. Once we hit the Humboldt County line, we found ourselves breathing easier.
We arrived at our campground at Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Friday afternoon. J and I have a ritual to pop open a beer as soon as we arrive at camp, so we did. We enjoyed our beers as we surveyed the campsite and determined what we would set up first. Any time we arrive at a campsite for a weekend of camping, this feeling washes over me–this sense of freedom and peace. And this is what we were feeling as we set up camp amongst the redwoods, madrones, and oak trees that hugged our campsite. We built a fire, made some dinner, and even played Yahtzee! (Yes, we are eighty).
Our friends would arrive later that evening, exhausted, and we greeted them with a campfire and a margarita and warm hugs.
When we went to bed, J and I discovered that the air mattress we had borrowed was significantly less full than when we set up camp. This concerned us, but we aired it up again, and went to bed. Two hours later, we woke up on the ground, and I had a large stick in my back. We aired it up again. Two hours later, we awoke to the same phenomenon. We aired it up again. This happend two more times before we decided that getting up was more inviting than sleeping a moment longer on that thing. So we got up, made our french press coffee and a fire and breakfast, and all was better with the world.
Later that day, we headed to the river.
One of Humboldt’s greatest treasures, in addition to its redwoods (and its one very notable agricultural export), are its rivers. We found a sunny spot on the Eel River where we stared at the water (and even ventured in a couple of times). The four of us have spent many summers camping at the Van Duzen River (which feeds into the Eel), so we fell right into our old groove as we sat there talking, then silent, then laughing.
Our friend, N, walked with me along the banks as I picked out rocks for our balcony garden back home. He’s a geologist, so he identified them for me and told me their stories. This one is volcanic. This one shows a flood happened. This one is made up of fossilized microbes. These are the things we’ve always done together camping, what we will always do.
Our access spot to the river was just beyond a stand of old growth redwoods, so as we were leaving, I snapped some photos of some giants.
In groves of old growth redwoods, it is often dark. The canopy is dense and only allows filtered sunlight through to the forest floor, so often, one will see what seems to be a spotlight on a fern or a clover. It’s the most magical sight.
That night, we had a giant campfire. We sang songs, drank too much, ate great food, and laughed a lot. J and our buddy N had spent some time trying to patch the mattress earlier in the day, but to no avail, so our friends invited us to sleep in their trailer, and we took them up on it. Needless to say, we were grateful, even if we had to sleep apart. We were up early again the next morning and crept out without waking them back to our campsite.
We cleaned up camp and said a sad goodbye to our friends as they went back to our old hometown where they live and we prepared to go back to our new home. On the way, we opted to take the Avenue of the Giants. This is a road that parallels Highway 101, and it drives through some groves of incredibly huge trees. We stopped for a short hike at one of the groves. It was Sunday, and this was our church.
When one enters a grove of old growth redwoods, the modern world disappears, and thousands of years of history unfold before your eyes. The ground beneath your feet becomes soft and spongy from centuries of needles and bark falling from the trees (this special soil is called “duff”).
The air smells sweet, and the sun sifts through the branches of the trees. There is no better word to describe this than magical.
A few times, J and I stopped, held hands, and closed our eyes. Other times we walked, hand in hand, with our heads tilted toward what would normally be the sky, staring up and up and up at trees that rival skyscrapers.
We hugged some of these trees.
We spent time with one enormous tree that must have had a forty-foot circumferance.
We stood at its base, contemplating its age, looking up to try to see its top.
We couldn’t. We loved this tree.
We would stall as we walked, slowing our steps, looking up, then around, taking photos, trying to soak in every last feeling of wonder and enchantment, burning images on our brains of our trees. I wanted to stay forever.
But soon enough, our hike was over. It was time to drive home, away from our beloved Humboldt Redwoods, trees that feel like family, trees that feel like home.