Thursday, April 4, 2013

Walking In The Woods

"Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world." (John Muir)

Have you ever wanted to travel back in time?  To journey 100's, even 1000's of years into the past so that you could feel and smell history come alive all around you?  To meet great legends and visit the sites of epic adventures?

I have.  And I know a place to go where such a fantastic trip is possible.

Have you ever longed to sit in a sacred place?  Somewhere where you could feel the presence of God with every fiber of your mortal being?  A place where your spirit and soul naturally hushed and felt at peace?

I do.  And I know of such a place; a place so large that it could swallow up thousands of visitors in its embrace, yet all who came there would feel intimately welcomed.

Do you ever seek the company of those that are patient and strong?  Who persevere in spite of all challenges and obstacles?  Whose very success is born out of being one with their surroundings?  Who through their quiet presence inspire the same in all those who come in contact with them?

We can't help but be drawn to such companions.  And I know where you can unfailingly find them.

In the woods.

A picture I took in my family's woods long ago
I have felt this reverence for the trees within the forests of the Pacific Northwest all my life.  I was lucky to have grown up in the country where on our family's property we had an acre of forest to call our own; a magical place we Schnorenberg kids simply called "The Woods".  We built forts and "cathedrals" in the woods; played games; jumped over creeks; waged titanic "wars"; wrote poetry in and about them; picked and ate buckets of blackberries there; buried our beloved pets in its embrace; and returned, time and again, to simply stand quietly in the trees' company.

"If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees." (Hal Borland)

All of these thoughts were spurred by a "spur of the moment", Spring vacation adventure that Deborah and I had last weekend.  We decided to take a hike in the great redwoods of northern California, just a couple of hours away from home.  We drove to Jedediah Smith State Park, and then bumped along a dirt road/path for another 5 miles before finding the trailhead for "The Boy Scout Tree Trail":  a 6 mile hike (round trip) in the heart of the redwoods.

Deborah and Izzy on the trail
From the very first steps we three took (Deborah, me, and of course Izzy!), I knew we had entered a magical, wonderful new world.  Our hike became both an adventure in "time travel", as well as a pilgrimage to a place as sacred as any temple, and a walk in the company of true beauty and strength.

A simple narrative, recounting what we did, what we saw, wouldn't do justice to what I experienced there.  So much of what makes the forests so awe-inspiring - especially ones as majestic as the Redwoods - can't really be expressed by words from the mind.  Instead it's one's heart and soul that are touched.  But I can share some impressions that have stuck with me ever since.

  • The incredible silence that wrapped itself around us as we started our hike and that accompanied us the whole time.  I felt it immediately and it instantly hushed my mind and soul.  I knew I was in a different world, and that I was welcome there.
  • The humility I felt walking among these giant sentinels.  I have seen one, or two, or three trees of such size before, but never had I walked for hours among trees that were ALL so massive!  They stood along the trail, rugged and scarred.  Some stood alone and apart; others stood fused together with another of their kind.  Some were shells, burned and hollowed by lightning.  Others were graceful and straight, as clean as if they were museum pieces
Deborah among an Army of giants
  • There was so much beauty to see!  At times I simply couldn't take it all in.  I looked upwards, gawking at the towering trees; only to stumble over their roots.  As I'd catch my balance, I then would see tinier, but no less impressive, "citizens" of the redwoods welcoming me along:  trilliums, white and innocent; little mushrooms wearing their bright red and gold "party hats"; and shamrocks everywhere - a veritable leprechaun's lawn!
A trillium
"Let's party!" say the mushrooms

Shamrocks and a leprechaun stump?
Deborah, Izzy, and I tramped and walked for a couple of hours, soaking up all of the beauty and holiness of this wonderful place.  We tired before we got to the end of the trail, and reluctantly decided to head back.  But the redwoods had one final gift for us.  

The afternoon had been mostly gray and cloudy, a typical March day.  But as we rounded a bend on our way back to the trailhead, shafts of sunlight split the towering trees and warmed a solitary spot on the trail.  We stopped and stood in the heavenly light, warming our faces, bodies, and souls.  We stood their silently and gratefully for a couple of minutes, and then continued our journey back to the car.  We bumped and splashed our way along the dirt road again back to the highway, and then back home, happy and contented.

As an added treat, we stopped at the Bridgeview Winery in Cave Junction and celebrated our adventure with a sweet glass of their "Blue Moon Rising" riesling.

John Steinbeck wrote the following about these redwoods in his books "Travels With Charley".

"The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes.  No, they are not like any trees we know.  They are ambassadors from another time.”

So, a toast to these ambassadors from another time.  I am grateful for all that you shared and inspired within me.  What I'm most grateful for is the reminder that the reason I'm drawn to, and find so much that is good, within the company of trees:  strength, patience, beauty, peace, etc. - is because all of that also exists within me.

The trees are God's ambassadors.  And though they may stand for centuries in solitary silence, they bring a timeless and powerful message from God to anyone who is willing to stand in their presence and listen - with their hearts, not their minds.

I love you.  I am here.  You are always welcome.  Stay with me.

I know I will return again soon.

(And I'll bring both of my favorite hiking companions along too - wouldn't be as fun without them!)

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