Being “There” — A poem about the Redwoods

“The Cathedral” cluster of trees at The Trees of Mystery, a Redwoods park in Northern California. Photo by me.

Before the last ice age, Redwood forest covered over 90 percent of the earth’s surface. The remaining strip, along the California coast, was literally decimated after the 1850 Gold Rush.

“It is estimated that old-growth redwood forest once covered close to 2,000,000 acres (8,100 km2) of coastal northern California.[22]96% of all old-growth redwoods have been logged, and almost half (45%) of the redwoods remaining are found in Redwood National and State Parks.” (Read more here.)

So of the remaining 4 percent, only half of that is protected, and only 1/5 of that is actual old-growth trees. My, how things change. Still, the vestiges are glorious. The trees are beautiful, strong and silent beings thousands of years old. You stand there and can’t help but think of bears, Paul Bunyan, native Indians, and Lewis and Clark. The air is of the highest caliber, fresh and leaf-scented, full of high-grade oxygen. You want to breathe deeply, as you stare at the 10-foot wide tree trunks and look up to where the tip soars into the sky.

Last week I went to visit the Redwood forest in northern California. Walking along a state park trail, I started to think about writing a poem that encapsulated what I was feeling. About the sadness of the commercialization I witnessed at The Trees of Mystery. About how hard it is to truly to be in the wild, a place that has no trails, no nearby roads, no signs at all, and zero people. About how different things used to look, how different and more authentic and visceral life used to be. And finally, the dichotomy between the white man’s GAINING versus the old way of BEING, as outlined in Mother Jones’s illuminating 1980 interview with the Indian activist Russel Means. The natives did not own their land, did not seek to dominate, exploit or monetize it. We have carved it up, but boundaries on it, developed it, drilled and fractured it, until there is barely any THERE left.

There

Fifteen dollars to see the trees

Signs marked the path.

A group of Asian tourists asked

“Take our picture, please?”

The way back led, as it always does,

Straight into the gift shop.

Take a trinket home

Commemorate this trip.

Down the road about an hour

We stopped again.

The place was quieter, I heard some birds

And wondered aloud about the bears.

The trail was marked but once

To note it had begun.

We met no one else and felt surrounded

By nature’s presence, alive and well.

These trees were free to see.

Yet as I trod along the well-worn trail

And stopped where dozens must have stopped,

I turned and looked into the wilderness.

You know, the way the world once was.

No trails or roads. Just you and God.

Could I ever step into it? Would I die?

Man no longer knows the ways of plants, the signs of stars

Isn’t one with earth as he once was.

My path is paved; it leads on.

I turn, resigned to parking lots and roads.

This is, after all, a state park,

With rules and camping grounds.

It is not mine. It is no place

To be alone, for long.

On the ride out I hate

The comfort of my seat

The stagnant air.

I long to be back in time,

Wild and free, out there.

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