Redwood National Park - and Beyond
Driving north on U.S. Highway 101 in Northwestern California, enticing road signs abound. See the “Trees of Mystery” in nearby Klamath, or divert to Old Highway 101 and experience the “Avenue of the Giants”. The Trees of Mystery is an ersatz tourist trap with an energy bridge to the land of Paul Bunyan. The oversized scene became complete when they installed an overhead tramway and a giant statue of Paul and Babe, the blue ox. On the other hand, the Avenue of the Giants is a real place featuring not much more than redwood trees.
Entering Avenue of the Giants from the south, one exits Highway 101 near Phillipsville. In order to enjoy the unique scenery of a Coastal Redwood forest the motorist has no choice but to slow down. If you try to speed-tour the redwoods, you will find yourself tailgating others who may wish to enjoy their redwood experience at a slower pace. Many motorists who I observed were unwilling to slow down, roll down their windows, and take even one deep breath. Many, it seems are unable or unwilling to enjoy unique scenery at a leisurely pace.
Many redwood trees are over one thousand years old. Most humans are less than one hundred years old. In order to bring one’s energy into alignment with that of a redwood forest, one must therefore slow down by a factor of ten. In order to let harried travelers pass you by, be prepared to pull aside often. The only alternative is to keep up the competitive racing game that most motorists play each day on the highways of America.
If you do elect to detour from The Redwood Highway, plan to stop early and often along the thirty-two mile Avenue of the Giants. Once you commit to traveling on The Avenue, if you race ahead, you will travel too fast to see the quiet alcoves and turnouts available to the slower, more discerning motorist. If it is your choice to speed, please do slow down where people are walking along the highway. Even as you try to speed-tour the redwoods, remember to respect your slower and more deliberate brethren. They are not lesser humans. Perhaps they have learned to take a deep breath and then enjoy nature in ways you may not.
If you do stop along the way, be prepared to be a magnet for others who do not know where to stop or how to enjoy a forest experience. As soon as possible, turn off your engine, unplug the ear buds from your iPhone and let the rear-seat DVD spin to a stop. Listen to the stillness and peace of the forest environment. Only then will you receive your invitation to enter the realm of the forest dweller, which all humans secretly crave. As early humans sought shelter under the canopy of the forest, they absorbed instinctual memories. Embedded in our human DNA, those instincts guide us back to these sacred spots.
We live in a world dominated by three dimensional time-space reality (3DTSR). Most people believe that 3DTSR is the only reality. Stopping long enough to let the fast-paced energies of the highway subside is a challenge for most tourists. Don’t we have to be somewhere soon? What will happen if we cannot make it to our next stop before dark? Should we stay and enjoy this unique forest experience or just “beat it” down the road? Although it feels unique to each individual, each motorist feels the same struggle. Each wants to enjoy the forest, but to do so quickly. The pressure is to absorb what we can and then move on down the highway.
When compared to our human lifespan, we know that redwoods are by nature eternal. If we do not take the time to see them now, we have the reassuring belief that they will be here next time we pass by, and the time after that, as well. If you do slow down and stop among the redwoods, you will see the last of a dying breed. We can measure their death in centuries, not days, weeks or months, yet die they must. What we see is both the largest intact tract of Old Growth Coastal Redwoods and a relict forest, isolated from others of its kind by miles of grasslands and chaparral. If we wish for this forest to thrive, we must stop and appreciate it at a pace befitting the redwood pace of life.
Over the years, vehicles have hit almost every large redwood that stands near The Avenue. Whether it was a Model-A Ford or a Maserati, the tree always won. The soft bark of a redwood acts like a shock absorber for the tree. Given that a coastal redwood can grow to enormous size and height, no high-powered sports car is going to uproot or topple one of these forest giants. In an earnest effort to protect the redwoods and errant motorists, reflective metal road markers demarcate almost every roadside tree.
In this redwood forest, one must accept his or her solitude in short stints. Seemingly, another SUV is always right around the corner, speeding toward your location. Vehicle speed is an indicator of the connectedness or disconnectedness its occupants currently feel. Why stop to smell the redwoods? From the flight deck of his or her luxo-cruiser, the speedy driver can experience it all in fast motion.
If not to experience the forest with one's own senses, why come to this ancient forest at all? Anything less than bodily entry into the forest is a synthetic experience. With more than a century of motion picture magic behind us, we accept almost any recorded video as part of our 3-D, time-space reality. Many 3-D IMAX movie houses are located in national parks, adjacent to museums or other natural wonders. In a redwood forest, those humans who retain their ancestral forest memories can help their unconscious counterparts to reclaim their own natural heritage.
Email James McGillis