November 19th, 2008

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

One day late - this was Monday, November 18...

Monday November 18

The fog that crept in while we were having dinner the night before was still with us when we woke this morning. Pretty solidly, it looked like when I peered through the windows.

“Eh, it’ll burn off by ten o’clock,” the ever-optimistic rdeck said, with conviction. “Besides, the windows are all fogged in anyway, so it probably isn’t as bad as you think.”

Eh. In order. It didn’t burn off by ten (our B&B landlady suggested 11 AM as an alternative but as it happens she was wrong too – more on that later), and while the windows of our room WERE in fact a little misted up – well – so was the outside.

Well. We busied ourselves with breakfast around 9, and took off for a final walk down to Fort Bragg downtown at about 10, and the back street we were on was quiet an empty. A sign tacked on a lamp-post informed us that it was forbidden to ride bicycles, skateboards or horses on the sidewalk; we didn’t see anyone breaking the law, although I was really holding out for a bronco.

In front of the First Baptist Church, a hopscotch grid was chalked on the pavement – the first time I’ve seen one in oh, a gazillion years. The wave of nostalgia was completely unexpected. I was just – so – well, I was so SEVEN YEARS OLD again. It took an effort of will not to stick my hair into pigtails and start hopping. A little further on the pavement someone had chalked the words THINGS WE ARE THANKFUL FOR and surrounding them – sometimes in heartstoppingly painstaking childish handwriting – were the responses to that. They were… fantastic. Here’s just a selection:

My Baby Brother
The Harvest
Meeting Friendly Christians
Fall Colors
Sun and rain
Hippies (no, I am not kidding. It said that.)

This is a cool and interesting place.

We dropped in on the very nice local bookstore, Cheshire Books, which promptly set up a small display of my paraphernalia in the shop which was very nice of them. On our way back– and I was cameraless, alas – we chanced on a building straight out of a Wild West Hollywood movie with a sign that said no more than “Golden West”. It was painted up front, but that had been done some time ago and someone should have been thinking about a fresh coat about five years back – but the sides, visible from above the lower neighbouring house on one side and the alley on the other, were chronically dilapidated. The windows showed a range of eclectic coverings meant to do duty as curtains; at least two were bed sheets in a previous life, one was intriguing but unidentifiable from the street, and one was a crochet afghan. It honestly looked like a home for down-on-their-luck ladies of the night.

A little further up the street a storefront bore a pair of signs that were the most perfect example of irony I have ever seen. The one above said simply, “Bait”. Well, you might argue, this is a seaside town, people fish, ergo, bait. But just below it there was a sign advertising the lottery, with a come-hither announcement that the jackpot was now something in the order of $70 million.

Bait, eh..?

Back up to our own lodgings, from which we had already checked out, and we paused to look at the house directly across the street from the place we had stayed in.

“It looks a little iffy,” rdeck suggested.

Iffy didn’t begin to cover it. One of the panes of the upstairs window was frankly missing; the roof was in a parlous state; the siding was three different colours where it had weathered differently and/or fallen off altogether; and something appeared to be grievously wrong with the foundation at one end, resulting in a perilously sagging porch and a downstairs window that kind of drooped at an odd angle. The house looked like it had suffered a major stroke and that nobody had managed to get to it in time for the damage not to be kind of permanent.

But it was now close to noon and we had places to go. So we loaded up the chariot and pressed on.

Into the fog.

Which got thicker and more drifty and more fabulous the further we went. We paused at one seaside view stop and I took some pictures of the angry choppy pewter-coloured ocean under the blanket of fog, rocks and foam and seagulls all soft and formless through fog. The road sometimes wholly disappeared into fog ahead of us, just dived in, only reappearing as I literally crashed the fogline, disappearing into another bank a few hundred yards ahead. It was WILD.

We stopped at another outlook and the coast was fantastic – great crashing breakers, cormorants perched on drenched crags, spray, mist, white foam on dark sand, and a handful of ravens flitting through it all cawing ominously. I took a picture of one of them, the one which posed in the spirit of human-avian cooperation until I was practically next to it before squawking when I got a shade too familiar and spreading huge black wings and rising into the drifting mist. It was all very Edgar Allan Poe.

The road twisted and turned and twisted. I began to really respect their signs – when they indicated a curve on the road and said max speed was 15MPH, they bloody well meant it. But the problem was that I couldn’t fathom why one curve had a warning sign and a mileage limit on it while another – just around the corner – was allowed to sneak up on you unawares. We developed a game of it – “That’s a fifteen!” – “That’s no twenty!” – “What, twenty five? We can do that in our sleep!” – “WHOA! Ten?!?” But after a while I was really starting to look forward to a straight road. Just a little bit of straight road. Please.

We meandered and twisted away from the coast after a while, and the fog magically vanished leaving us in bright sunshine. In that interval we chanced on a redwood grove picnic area and went for a stroll. We were the only people there; we might have been the last people on the earth, just us and the trees. We saw our first real old-growth redwood, and I wept at it – we stood rapt and listened to the silence of the redwood cathedral while green light filtered down from the treetops somewhere unimaginably high above us. I took pictures. Lots of pictures. LOOOOOTS of pictures. Have to download some of these puppies soon.

Onwards, but we were losing the day and the light by now, and we were also getting returns of the patchy fog every so often. We stopped to do stuff like drive the car through a drive-through tree (yes! I DID IT!) and then stop off to admire something called a Grandfather Tree with a circumference of FIFTY FIVE FEET. Go away and think about that for a minute. I’ll wait…

I didn’t want to miss out on any of the Avenue of the Giants stuff, and that was coming up, and the light was dying on us. So we turned off the highway in Garberville and bunked down for the night in a place called the Sherwood Forest Motel (I kid you not. I guess they figure one wood is as good as another…), had a quick meal in a nearby café (nothing like the one we had the night before…) and retired to recharge electronics and crash for the night. No Internet, though – so I am writing all this up on the evening of the 18th, and you will get to see it… whenever I get hold of the Internet for long enough to upload it to the blog.

We’re ready to start out bright and early tomorrow. Avenue of the Giants for as long as that takes – we have several scheduled stops but plan to stop elsewhere too if the mood takes us – and then after that we get as far as we can get before we break for the night. The car has to be delivered to the rental people in Portland OR before 5:30 on the 20th. We have two days to get from here to Portland.

Piece of cake.

Next report, after the Redwood Encounter Day.
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

On the Avenue

We departed our Internetless motel bright and early - or dark and early, anyway - and drove off into foggy drizzle. The entrance to the Avenue of the Giants was only a handful of miles up the road and we found it without difficulty... and crossed some sort of permeable barrier into a land of pure magic.

If other people left their hearts in San Francisco... I have left a part of my soul in the land of the big trees.

In the beginning they were still big enough to dwarf anything I'd ever seen before, but that quickly changed, and they grew ever bigger, broader, wider, more magical, with faces etched into ancient bark.

Our first stop, only a little way into the Avenue, was the "Living Chimney Tree". This astonishing creature was completely gutted on the inside by a ferocious fire, and you can now go into a "room" inside the tree, some 12 feet across, and look straight up into open sky - the thing is completely hollow.

The tree is hale and hearty and obviously still living because there are green needles on it outside.

The fire happened in *1914*. The Great War was still raging at the time that this giant burned. Women were still wearing long skirts and long hair and button-up boots. NINETEEN FOURTEEN. For nearly a century this tree has stood here, living, breathing, its heart ripped out by fire.

I cried.

We went on. We stopped for breakfast eventually in a place called the Avenue Cafe, on the opposite side of the road to which a little house stands surrounded and dwarfed by no less than six giant sequoias. (The Cafe, by the by, while we're still on things cullinary, serves quite the best pancakes I've had in a VERY long time. Just for the record.) Fed and caffeinated, we drove on.

And I whimpered all the way.

The road winds throught groves of gigantic trees, some of which stand RIGHT next to the road, if you reached out your arm out of the window of the car you could touch them. Traffic was light to non existent, we had the place largely to ourselves and it was the most heartstoppingly beautiful, amazing place I have ever ever ever ever ever seen. I have hundreds of photographs of trees - but they have one thing in common, and that is that they consistently fail to pick up on the SCALE of these things. Because you're taking pictures of, well, trees - and on a photograph they look very much like, well, TREES - but when you're standing underneath one, looking straight up a trunk that goes on forever and gasping at the unbelievable beauty of it all, it's quite a different feeling.

I told rdeck that the what I got from these trees was a sense of royal and dreamy detachment. They gaze down upon us and sigh - We are here. We have always been here. Touch us, mayflies, and then vanish while we endure, we live, we go on. We go on.

I cried, more than once.

Someone along the way circled one particular spot on the map we had of the Avenue, and said, "If you stop nowhere else, stop here." The place was called Founder's Grove, in honour of the founders of the redwood national parks. And so we saw the sign for Founder's Grove, and dutifully turned in.

And I cried.

The Founder's Tree is huge and stately and dominates the entrance of the nature trail. But a little beyond, lying on its side after it fell back in 1991, is a tree called the Dyerville Giant. It is... impossible to take in. This tree's exposed rootball is THREE TIMES MY HEIGHT. I walked along the length of it that remains, fully one hundred and fifty paces, and at the end of this the tree, lying sideways, was STILL above my head - broader, even at this point, than I was tall. And that was not the end of the tree, which went on for two thirds again as long off into the forest.

I cannot even imagine this giant as it must have looked when it was still upright. Nor can I imagine the sound of thunder it must have made when it fell. Or the shaking of the earth as it was pulled out from it, and stretched its length out upon it. One felt as though some sacrifice was necessary, as though there should be a shrine where one could kneel and offer up dreams in little redwood caskets and pray for life and love and immortality. Because this... this is a fallen god of ancient times. There is no other way to describe it.

We spent more time than we meant to in Founder's Grove, because we couldn't tear ourselves apart from it. But the day was waning, and we needed to get a move on.

"We could leave the Avenue and go back on the 101," rdeck suggested.

"No," I said firmly, and I was driving so I had the final say. "So long as this thing continues, we're on it."

Further on, nearly at the end of the Avenue, we came upon the Immortal Tree. This tree has survived two lighning strikes (its height has been noticeably diminished by these), a flood (there is a fish affixed to it to mark the high-water mark of the great flood, and it's QUITE considerably above my head) and man (there is a mark where people tried to hew the thing with axes, and failed miserably in the attempt). It survived all of this, and it's huge, and hale, and hearty.

I went up to it, and I stroked its bark, and I kissed it.

"Live long, and prosper," I whispered into a crack of its weathered 'skin'.

And I cried. Again.

Another grove or three or four, some with more of the grandpappy old trees that had us both so enthralled, and the Avenue came to an end. We left it reluctantly; I saw a car swing in from the 101 on its way south down the Avenue, and I sighed.

"I envy them," I said.

Back on the 101, we were making good time... but we couldn't let go of the trees.

A little further along the way we spied another "scenic alternative", so we turned onto that. Somewhere along the way a sign said simply, "Big Tree". No more, no less.

So we swung in to see.

My giddy aunt. They weren't kidding. No statistics for this one - no height or circumference or diameter or anything - but it's, um, BIG. *REALLY* big. Gawpingly big. Huge.

We visited it, made offerings to it in our hearts, and drove on.

The detour delivered us back to 101 in relatively short order, after more groves of redwoods on the way, and then we stopped AGAIN - just outside Klamath - to take a Redwood Ride. They have this little cable car thing set up, and you climb into a gondola and are carted up this steep slope - halfway up the redwoods, and you're a VERY long way off the ground - to a viewpoint at the top. Unfortunately the viewpoint was a sad loss because we were yet again socked in with fog - but the ride was spectacular, both up and down, and the views of redwoods in the mist were gorgeous.

We saw a few more trees here and there on the way up the 101 from there, but they were getting smaller and scarcer. I bid them farewell, with a devotion that will remain undying, with love and awe and humility. A part of me will always remain here in these groves, drifting in the dreamy shadows, stepping softly on needle-covered soft springy ground.

I will never forget the redwood groves.

We swung down to the spectacular coast, and eventually crossed from California into Oregon. Currently ensconced in a hotel in Gold Beach, in a room with an ocean view and a little pot-bellied gas stove in the room - and a bed so high that it feels like it belongs in a princess-and-the-pea fairy story.

TOmorrow, we hit the road and go straight to Portland. It's a little more of the coastline, just a little more, and then it's highways all the way in.

See you on the other side.