Redwood Gothic

Walking through the immense quiet of a redwood forest just outside Crescent City, California. I’d been camped out on the coast for days.  It was hard getting the sound of the surf from my head.  The sway and moan of the canopy was the pitch and roll of ocean, for awhile. But soon, the echoes of that maritime receded in my mind, replaced by pristine silence.

Subdued light in this nave.  Shafts broke through the clerestory, setting fire to the hoary dust suspended on the air currents.  The brown and green stained glass of the canopy decomposed the white light.  The wooden pillars upheld a common vault dozens of centuries enduring.  The bark of the pillars spiraled in a heavenward helix, tracing the vortex of the winds that shape them. The choir groaned and creaked.  Hollowed hulks of some trunks, many still sporting lush crowns, ushered me into side chapels and grottos.  These were dens where no sacrifice need be made for a night’s sleep or a litter born.  For the god that’s worshipped here demands no sacrifice.  Walking in the woods, it’s important not to try and learn or see anything.  Nothing usually happens that way.  Just walk and look and smell and listen.  The trick is not to gawk, not to try to feel awe.  Then awe will sometimes come.  It is to be open.  It is just to be.

Rubbed the needles of a redwood between my fingers—tiny, flat, insubstantial things. The cones of the giants are puny too, about the size of an olive. The foundations of all great things are built from small aspects.

Looking up, it seemed that someone put condenser lenses on my eyes.  There can be over a hundred feet of vertical shaft before the crowns take shape on these trees.  Wow.  Still, I reminded myself this isn’t Disney or Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.  The sacred doesn’t prefer to be gawked at.  If I was God, I wouldn’t want people gaping up at me all day long.  I’d feel like an NBA center.

The forest floor is now dark, but for corridors of sun permitted through to grace the fern understory, a spore-laden forest in its own right beneath the widely spaced giants.  I passed by a downed redwood, and looked at its growth rings.  The tree starts out tiny like any other seedling.  Looking at the rings, I discovered that the beginning of something, the youth of a living thing, remains at its core.  The child within me is the essence of my being.  The source of my life.  And the experiences gained in youth, representing a greater proportion of total experience, are global to my being.  I’ll remember that next time I’m tempted to yell at a kid.

© 2015 by Michael C. Just