Sequoia Hugger!


We arrive in the Golden State just after 5pm and I am worried that we are not going to find suitable encampment for the night.  The temperature has dropped 30 degrees and fog now hugs the top of the redwoods as we continue our westward drive on Highway 199.  Reaching Jedediah State Park and Campground, we pull in and see the “campground full” sign.  We have to pull forward in order to turn around, but before anyone in the car can get a word out, the friendly, young ranger asks “looking for a place for the night?”  Yes, I reply.  “You’re in luck, we just had a cancellation.” I ask if we can we take a look at it.  Yes, he says, “but I get off in 30 minutes, so make it quick.”  We’re back in ten, paying $35 to camp in the keystone of redwood parks in northern California.

In no time, Malaika and Purdie are cooking delicious zucchini succotash using the small backcountry stove I brought along: I’m impressed by what two determined Aussies can pull off with bare minimum.  I set up camp, take a quick walk around the grounds and breathe in the sounds of people talking, kids playing or complaining, parents trying to figure how to set up tent, and RVs running generators.  I’m struck by the desire of human beings to be in nature.  Not everyone wants to be in it in the same way I do, but it is interesting that every year people pack the national and state parks with their family and friends.  It gives me hope.

I return to find Malaika and Purdie discussing America.  It’s been interesting to see the country through their eyes.  Malaika is surprised at the beauty and diversity of the landscape; she had the idea of a barren, overdeveloped land.  Those places exist, I say, but there are also breathtaking sanctuaries that people in this country have worked hard to protect.

The highlight of my evening comes when opportunity meets need.  The girls have never heard of, nor had, S’mores.  Given my food cravings, I am ready for just about anything on a stick.  Unfortunately the only chocolate in my possession at the moment is organic raspberry, large chunk.  Being that this is a S’mores emergency, any chocolate will do.  Over burning marshmallows and melting chocolate on graham crackers we exchange stories of our lives, loves and sorrows.

Footbridge to the old growth

The next morning is quiet and misty.  We’re up early and, after short debate, decide to hike a short point-two (.2) mile trail. We learn later that we have misread the signs and it closer to 2 miles.  In no time, we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the mighty giants we call redwoods.  They shoot up out of the land like prehistoric monsters and it is easy to feel as if one has stepped back in time.  Fog embraces the canopy and ferns and tall grasses grow large and green along the forest floor.  We cross a river via footbridge and enter old growth forest, which is larger and more mysterious than its younger counterpart.

As I step close to one colossal giant, which I cannot even see completely, I wonder what we can learn from beings this large and old.  Many cultures see trees as magical beings that bridge realities and walking amongst such presence, there is no mistaking that these sequoia are alive.  I realize this is a silly statement, but let me explain: by alive, I mean conscious.  Not in the way you and I are conscious, but they are aware of us, their surroundings and the world.  I believe that there is vast knowledge accessible to anyone patient enough to listen.

Tree Hugger

Malaika tells Purdie and me about an artist in Australia who hooks up diodes to trees and then has people hug them, which produced unique sounds.  One time, he conducted a symphony by coordinating tree huggers.  To demonstrate, Malaika walks up to a redwood and hugs it as if she is embracing a long-time friend.  Wanting to hear what the tree will sound like (or say), Purdie and I move into to embrace our conifer brethren.  If you have never hugged a tree, or had a conversation with one, I highly recommend it.

Four hours later the gals and I emerge from the hike more centered and peaceful.  We race back to checkout of the campground.  Later that day, I say “so long” to Purdie and Malaika for the moment – human style hugs all around.  Sebastian, my stuffed frog copilot, takes his rightful place in the car, riding shotgun.

More NorCal pictures are available –> here


Crossing the Californacopia Border

Welcome to the Golden State

“Look . . . we have  tasty blueberries, eggs and tomatoes.  Oh, and we got freshhhhhh bread and luscious spread.”   I am giving Malaika and Purdie, two Australian women I met at the Soul Retrieval workshop, a lift to the redwood forests in Northern California.  I wonder to myself why it seems that vegetarians are inclined to speak of fruits and vegetables in an erotic manner.  “Great!,” I reply, wondering how I’m going to pull off a Burger King run with these two in tow.  I now have less than two-and-a-half days to drive 683 miles to San Francisco to meet my mother, who is flying in Monday evening.  Plus, I’d like to spend some time in the redwood forests and maybe stop in Napa.

After packing and repacking, it is impossible to fit the three of us and all our stuff in the car.  “It just won’t work,” I say after trying to cram luggage and several bags of groceries into the back of my Jeep.  “We can make it work,” Malaika says stuffing her didgeridoo in amongst the rest of our stuff.  After a brief, but anxiety filled, ride to Northwest Auto in downtown Portland, I purchase a car top carrier.  I have admired them on other cars since I left New York and finally asked a guy at a stoplight where he got his; he raved about NW Auto, so I decided to check it out.  Plus, Oregon has no sales tax.  The owner of the shop, Thor, installs my Thule SportRack with no additional charge. “I’ve been doing this 20 years,” he says as he easily secures the carrier in less than 20 minutes.

The girls, as I am now calling them, have been circling the car, making use of the new space and rearranging.  All the doors are open, Thor is on the roof and there is one final piece of luggage to be put back in the car – I make the final push through the rear passenger side door and out the back fall the organic blueberries, which spill all over Thor’s shop and the roadway.  Malaika is visibly heartbroken. Thor picks up several and tosses them in the trash: “no use crying. . .“ he comments with a shrug of his shoulders.  Knowing I’ve done bad, I grasp Malaika by her shoulders, look directly into her eyes and promise “I . . . will . . .  get . . .  you . . .  more . . .  blueberries.”  “But they won’t be organic,” she responds with a frown.  Here I take a moment to explain that blueberries have few natural pests and actually don’t need to be organic.  She’s not buying what I’m selling.  I just hope the blueberry incident doesn’t ruin the next two days we’ll spend in the car and camping.

We choose to drive I-5 through most of Oregon, as two Oregonians suggested the route (“101 down the Oregon coast is nice, but it’s slowwwwww”).  There is not much to see on I-5, it could be in any state.  Our only excitement is a burning 18-wheeler at a mega-truck stop; the dark black smoke is visible for miles.  “Close the vents,” instructs Purdie.  “Wouldn’t want to breathe that in,” says Malaika.  I oblige, finding the circulation feature on my ventilation system which I didn’t know was there.  We ride along for a while, breathing circulated air and discussing the dangers of burning tires, pesticides and other things that can destroy us and our environment.

At Grant’s Pass, in southern Oregon we cut over on Highway 199 towards the famous 101 and California.  It’s not long before our excitement, not to mention the heat, builds as the scenery changes dramatically.  Blah, monotonous interstate gives way to small towns, hills and curvy roads.  We’ve hit 100 degrees and the A/C, now coming in fresh, is pumping.  Malaika puts on an Australian reggae band, who will be performing at Burning Man.  It doesn’t take much convincing before I am sure that I will attend The Burn this year (unfortunately I don’t make it for several reasons).  It is nice to have other people in the car besides my co-pilot Sebastian, the stuffed frog I picked up in Sioux City.

Just when the temperature starts to make its decent (now at 99) we see a farm stand.  The gals purchase assorted grass and green things.  I search desperately for hamburger or hotdogs, but find the next best alternative: homemade baked goods!  I end up with one huckleberry danish for myself and one basket of un-organic blueberries for Malaika.  Incidentally, the woman behind the counter agrees with my assessment of blues and natural pests.  I walk away proud to have redeemed myself, at least in my own eyes.

Packing everything into the car I realize that we might have a problem getting across the border with the produce we bought.  Plus, we have green stuff from Portland and I am still nervous about the Canadian pharmacy contraband (400mg Advil and Allegra-D) that I have in my possession.  I return to the strong-looking woman collecting cash at the stand and ask her what to do.  No problem she says, and produces an official stamp, which she slams down on the receipt for our purchases.  I just hope the Aussies have their passports as I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for running women into the state.

It’s not long before we are at the border and, after taking pictures at the “Welcome to California” sign, we are stopped by the California State Agriculture Check.  My heart starts to beat faster as two young agents, who are clearly Californian, approach the car.  Both are more-or-less blonde, fair skinned and blue-eyed, and chipper.

“Hi there! You’re a long way from home, huh?” the male agent says noting my NY plates.

“Yes,” I start to sweat.  What if he makes us pull out all the shit we have packed into my car: I imagine the worse case: the two Australians, me and all our green bootleg sprawled out on the side of the road while decent, law-abiding families pull through Ag Check unencumbered.

“I’m from Australia!”, exclaims Malaika from the front seat.

“And me too,” says Purdie from the back.  I assume this is some sort of “I’m sure there is SOMETHING we can work out officer” ploy, so I run with it.

“Do you have any fruits or vegetables?”

“Oh, yes” the girls say excitedly.

“In the back” I say.  My heart now stops and I am feeling like Lily Tomlin in 9 to 5 after she’s been pulled over with a dead body in her trunk.

I watching as the lips on the guard struggle to make a frown, when Malaika thrusts the receipt with official stamp past my face to the young man.

Examining the stamp, he says, with a smile, “That makes it easy!”

At this moment, I swear I see one of those cartoon glints flash off his brilliant white teeth as he winks to the ladies and says ”Welcome to California.”  I think he has been waiting all day to say that.  He offers us a map of the state and waives us through.  My hearts starts to beat again.

The Aussies and I give high fives all around.  We pulled it off just like when Obi Wan Kenobi got Luke and gang past the  Storm Troupers.  The force is strong in us!  Now, I am no longer looking for BK, but instead believe I need a Blizzard from DQ!  The excitement of the day has caused me to sink to new lows in my food cravings.

How do I say thank you?

How do I say thank you for everything you have done for me?  
  You walked with me when I was down. 
  You lent me your ear when I needed to talk.
  You showed me compassion when I had none.
  You saved my life.
How do I express my gratitude for our relationship?  
  For the time we spent together.   
  For watering my plants and checking my mail when I was out of town.
  For laughing together and crying together.
  For bringing me soup and NyQuil when I was sick.  
How do I show you I’m sorry?
  I forgot to call on your birthday.
  I didn’t show up when I said I would.
  I neglected to tell you how important you are.  
  I didn’t make time for you.
How do I tell you I love you?  
  For dreaming with me.
  For grieving with me. 
  For celebrating with me. 
  For being with me.  
  For the love you have shown me. 
To my friends, family and loved ones on September 11, 2011: I am blessed because of you.