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.
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.