Category Archives: redwoods

beauty

I’m on to another question:

Olive wrote,

My question: what is the most beautiful place in the world (to you)?

I honestly don’t need many words for this place because I have written so much about it here and here, but in my opinion, the most beautiful place in the world is the redwood forest in Humboldt County, California. I have never known a place more magical and ancient and awe-inspiring as this. I miss these trees so, and I can’t wait to introduce my son to their majesty.

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turning corners

J and I returned yesterday from an impromptu weekend getaway for Pride. Our county held its Pride festival in a new location this year, in a small riverside town that is a gay male hotspot. We love this little town for its quirkiness and for its proximity to both the river and the redwoods, which we both sorely miss these days. So, when we learned that Pride was being held there, we entertained the possibility of going and then camping in the redwoods for a night.

I have to be honest. We almost didn’t go, and it was because of me. I had a fair amount of anxiety about going camping. This was likely going to be our only trip this year, and our last trip as just a couple, so I felt that if we didn’t go, I would feel a good deal of remorse. Still, the anxiety was pretty overwhelming, so much so that I almost called the trip off the day before we were to leave. So many things fed into this: I wouldn’t be  having a few beers to help me sleep at night; I wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping; I might feel a bit too vulnerable; I wouldn’t be able to do my usual heavy lifting, and J would have to pick up the slack (I’m usually the muscle in our relationship). I couldn’t believe how scared I was and how worked up I had gotten myself.

The day before we were to leave, I awoke at about five in the morning, and laid there worrying about it. When J woke up, I began talking to her about it, voicing my fears. Soon enough, we were pulling out the camping gear, pairing things down so they wouldn’t be as heavy, and getting ready. She knows quite well that if she can get me to move forward that I typically snap out of it, and I did. She brought me extra pillows and insisted on a little ben.adryl to get me to sleep. Somehow, I was going along with it and was going to be okay.

And so, on Sunday morning, we packed up the car, and we drove West toward the little gay town on the river. When we arrived, the lightposts all had American flags with little gay flags under them.

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All of the local businesses had gay flags and various Pride decorations in their windows.

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It was still early, so we ventured to the area where we would be camping to secure a site. The drive in is through an old growth grove of redwoods, and then one is required to traverse a very narrow, steep, windy one-lane mountain road. We made our way up and up and up, past so many beautiful vistas, but toward the top were the most breathtaking.

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Once at the top, we made our way through the campground and found ourselves in a clearing where we soon discovered the bullfrog pond after which the campground was named.

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This was also where we found our campsite, a perfect little spot where we were able to pitch our tent directly beneath a redwood.

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We were thrilled to discover that not only were we very close to a restroom, but that we seemed to be the only people camping in this entire clearing (where there were five other sites). It felt like we had the whole pond, the whole campground, to ourselves. Needless to say, it was difficult to want to leave to go back to Pride, but we had promised ourselves we would–plus, we still needed firewood.

Off to Pride we went, where I was the token pregnant lesbian in a see of gay men. The celebration was held on the lawn of a resort, and it was quite festive. We enjoyed people watching, dog watching, kid watching, but after a bit of food and perusal of the various goods for sale, we were ready to go back to camping away from the people and festivities and noise.

When we returned, we settled in. We played some cards, took a walk around the pond, made a fabulous dinner over the fire, and simply enjoyed being out there by ourselves. Throughout the afternoon, three or four lesbian couples came to have romantic moments by the pond, and we were certain we would have camping neighbors, but we never did. At night, everything was quiet except for the owls and bullfrogs. It was beautiful. Sleeping was challenging, as I knew it would be. My hips ached all night, and I flipped from one side to the other throughout the night. I did sleep though, and by sunrise, J and I were ready to get up and enjoy our own slice of the outdoors for ourselves again.

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Each of us took her own walk around the pond, encountering all kinds of wildlife from deer to turkeys to ducks and the frogs themselves. J had found me a walking/fire stick the night before, and she insisted I take it with me on my walk around the pond. It was so lovely taking this little hike by myself with just my camera, my coffee, and a stick. It was therapeutic. I was so proud of myself that this more rugged T that has always loved being in nature still existed, that even though I’m busy growing this baby, I still had plenty of strength and energy to hike and build fires, and I still had the peace of mind to enjoy the beauty of this place.

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This was such an important revelation for me to have at this point in my pregnancy. So much lore around us says that pregnant women are fragile, and I have resented this, but at the same time, there was part of me that had started to embrace it. Not now. Sure I need to take life a little slower, accept the help that is offered to me, and avoid doing things that are utterly reckless, but I needn’t stop being me so long as I’m still capable of doing so. As the coming months make me slower and a little more dependent, I need to be able to hang onto this.

We wrapped our very short trip up with a hike through the redwoods later that morning. We felt so close to one another, so happy to be where we were. The redwoods always make us feel home, and we enjoyed them so much.

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 As we walked, we fantasized about our camping trips next year with our baby boy (yes, we’ll be those crazy parents), the hikes through the redwoods he’ll enjoy throughout his life. It brought us so much joy to picture our little family making new meaning of something we have always loved as a couple. And with that, we ended our last camping trip as a couple, all filled up with love and hope and eager anticipation for what the years will bring.

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Tree Huggers

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).

campsite at dusk

campsite at dusk

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.

Eel River

Eel 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.

J, V, and N

J, V, and N

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.

J hugging tree

J hugging tree

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.

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Off we go!

We’re making final preps for our camping trip this morning and heading out today. We can’t wait to build a fire and sit around it drinking beer and chatting with good friends at the base of these enormous trees.

Wish you all could join us!

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The Oppressive Redwood Curtain

 

We live behind what is called the Redwood Curtain. This is an area that is secluded from the rest of California. Our county is surrounded by redwoods on three sides, and on the other side, we have the Pacific Ocean. Behind the Redwood Curtain, life is fairly peaceful. It’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. When the thick Northern Pacific Fog rolls in, it sits on our trees like a down blanket, and it makes this place one of mysticism and awe. But one can only live so long under a wet blanket. This was a lesson we learned last weekend, and something I wanted to write about before the big bomb was dropped in our laps.

Last Sunday, until said bomb, we had a fabulous day exploring our new hometown-to-be. We started off by driving around to a few apartment complexes that I had scouted out. We stopped at one, had a tour from a super-skinny woman with Lee Press-on-Nails (I had no idea they still existed!), and found ourselves more than a little underwhelmend with what they had to offer for the high price they were asking ($200 more than we were hoping to pay). This started us on a small downward spiral. As we drove up to other complexes, we started realizing that the places we thought would be in our price range were exactly the sort of places we would have settled for as college students. They are not, however, the sorts of places we want to live in our thirties, and they are certainly not the places where we want to have a baby. That was it. We were officially discouraged.

Then J saw a sign for another complex, and we took a look. It was this beautiful villa-style place that had class and charm and was around the same price as the first place where we had stopped. And then we saw some others like this. J looked at me and said, “This is what we need to be looking at from now on. We have to stop lowering our standards.” And she was right.

We found a great Mexican place for lunch, and we proceeded to have a fairly monumental conversation about why we have been aiming so low. I say this because we were really starting to consider pouring wine at the local wineries for jobs. We were seriously considering living in substandard dwellings in pretty crappy neighborhoods just so that we could move. But when you add all this up, it means spending thousands of dollars to move, then working jobs for which we are way overqualified, living in apartments that we outgrew about seven years ago, watching our backs in bad neighborhoods, and generally being miserable. We had to ask ourselves, how would this be any better than here? And why are we aiming so low? And how is it that we’re suddenly thinking that we ought to aim higher?

When we sat down to lunch that day, we realized that behind the Redwood Curtain, we have learned to strive for mediocrity–for just getting by. For example, recently one of our mentors (the director of the program in which we teach), upon hearing where we were moving, told J, “I can see you running an office.” Alas, this is not the first time someone has urged us into careers as receptionists and secretaries; some of our best friends have done that too. But we have masters’ degrees. The thing is, with masters’ degrees, people here behind the Redwood Curtain are receptionists, secretaries, bartenders, and waitresses because that’s what this place has to offer. I have the greatest respect for people who hold these positions, but we have five college degrees between us. We teach at a university. We don’t have any business being secretaries.

That day at lunch, we sat there with tears welling in our eyes, becoming aware of just how oppressed we have been by this place. We’ve been brainwashed by our colleagues and mentors here that we are doomed to lives of multiple jobs and part-time work without enough pay, but suddenly on that day, as we looked out at this city sprinkled in autumn leaves, sunlight, and people walking through the park and playing with their kids, that we’re capable of so much more. It may seem a simple realization, but to us, it’s what we had to discover on our fact-finding mission because it’s the only thing that is going to get us out of here, out of the fog behind the Redwood Curtain.

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