Today was a hiking day. I wasn’t entirely ready for it but stoked nonetheless. California’s magnificent redwood trees reign in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s been a while since I wandered in their shade and took in the power of their presence. Around mile 5 of the hilly terrain and lacking electrolytes, I half-expected an Ewok to pop out at any moment. Though not the forested moon of Endor, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve is pretty dang magical. I’d recommend this area to any Bay Area visitor looking for trails to hike or mountain bike. Watch out for the banana slugs! Here are some photos from today’s 3.5-hour trek followed by an excerpt from an ecstatic ode by Walt Whitman to the redwoods of Northern California.
“Song of the Redwood Tree” (an excerpt) by Walt Whitman
A California song!
A prophecy and indirection—a thought impalpable, to breath, as air;
A chorus of dryads, fading, departing—or hamadryads departing;
A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and air,
Voice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense.
Farewell, my brethren,
Farewell, O earth and sky—farewell, ye neighboring waters;
My time has ended, my term has come.
Along the northern coast,
Just back from the rock-bound shore, and the caves,
In the saline air from the sea, in the Mendocino country,
With the surge for bass and accompaniment low and hoarse,
With crackling blows of axes, sounding musically, driven by strong arms,
Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes—there in the redwood forest dense,
I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.
The choppers heard not—the camp shanties echoed not;
The quick-ear’d teamsters, and chain and jack-screw men heard not,
As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand years, to join the refrain;
But in my soul I plainly heard.
Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,
Down from its lofty top, rising over a hundred feet high,
Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs—out of its foot-thick bark,
That chant of the seasons and time—chant not of the past only, but the future.
You untold life of me,
And all you venerable and innocent joys,
Perennial, hardy life of me, with joys, ‘mid rain and many a summer sun,
And the white snows, and night, and the wild winds;
O the great patient, rugged joys! my soul’s strong joys, unreck’d by man;
(For know I bear the soul befitting me—I too have consciousness, identity,
And all the rocks and mountains have, and all the earth;)
Joys of the life befitting me and brothers mine,
Our time, our term has come.
Nor yield we mournfully, majestic brothers,
We who have grandly fill’d our time;
With Nature’s calm content, and tacit, huge delight,
We welcome what we wrought for through the past,
And leave the field for them.
For them predicted long,
For a superior race—they too to grandly fill their time,
For them we abdicate—in these ourselves, ye forest kings!
In them these skies and airs—these mountain peaks—Shasta—Nevadas,
These huge, precipitous cliffs—this amplitude—these valleys grand—Yosemite,
To be in them absorb’d, assimilated.
Go: This Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the forest lands between Hwy 280 and the Coast Hwy 1 in Northern California, has a parking lot for the Purisima Creek trailhead on Skyline Drive Hwy 35, which can be accessed by taking Hwy 84 (Woodside to Pescadero) or Hwy 92 (San Mateo to Half Moon Bay)—awesome all year round.
Read: For more by Walt Whitman, one of my favorite American writers, pick up Leaves of Grass.