“Why, who are you afraid of?” said Peter. “There’s no one here but ourselves.”
“There are the trees,” said the Beaver. “They’re always listening.”
– The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
That’s me, towards the bottom left of that picture, standing beneath a California redwood. You can tell by how it’s, um, quite big.
Our second week on the road and our second day in the Redwoods, and I decide I want to take a short walk among the trees on my own. We parked the RV on the side of the not-inappropriately-named Avenue of the Giants, and I was directed towards the map. “OK,” said SJ (who is used to that thing where I get lost). “Do you see this path here?” I did. “And do you see how it leads onto this larger loop with the interpretive trail*?” I did. I could even see how to get from one to the other and back again. And just to make really sure, I took a picture of the map on my phone camera. Easy peasy.
So off I set, an intrepid explorer with two sticks and a bit of a walking distance limit. And at first, all was well. I found the trail (where the signs shared helpful facts about how old, tall and weird each redwood was). I looked at some trees. I stood inside a few others.
At which point I realised some things. One, that I’ve never stood inside a tree before. Two, that I’ve definitely never stood instead a tree that bloody huge before. And three, that these trees were monsters. And I don’t just mean in the 300-foot-tall, 2000-year-old sense. There was something incredibly primal and alien about them. Reaching out to them was like opening myself up to a vortex that I could have lost myself in forever. I stopped, but I still felt very much like they wanted to eat me. Spider-and-fly stuff – if the spider was several thousand times bigger and vastly older than the fly. Come into my parlour…
It was at that point that I realised I was horribly lost. I had reached the place where I thought I had entered the trail from, but all I could see was thick, brambly undergrowth. There was no way of identifying the little path that led back to the van. I walked around and around the trail, much further than I’m meant to walk (I was in some serious pain afterwards!), all the while surrounded by those strange, seductive trees that wanted to swallow me whole. On getting back to the main car park for about the third time, I checked my little photo of the map and saw that I could get back to the van on the road. I started walking.
And here’s the really odd thing. All the while, I was only a couple of minutes’ walk from the van. From civilization. From the perception – the illusion – of safety.
We’re never all that far from the dangers that our ancestors lived with all the time. We’ve just shoved ourselves inside several tonnes of metal, bricked ourselves into boxes, buried ourselves in concrete. Safe as houses?
I did a lot of connecting, these past few weeks, with my goddess who stands between chaos and cosmos, between destruction and creation. In local folklore, she is said to have given the human race our powers of consciousness and thought – those egos that make us think we can separate ourselves off from the land around us, when we’re really just hiding under the covers from all the monsters under the bed. That line that Bhearra walks is liminal, shifting, illusory. We’re always just around the corner from chaos. That’s what I learned in the Redwood forest.
And now, some happy pictures of beautiful mountains, lakes and sea-shores. Which were all much less scary. (Apart from the plants that eat insects – those were also fairly terrifying.)
*While in America, we discovered the joy of the ‘interpretive trail’. In plainer English, this means ‘there will be signs explaining what you’re looking at’. Handy.