I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Sunlight trickles down, the huge branches of the redwood canopy above me making patterns of the interspersed light and darkness here at the forest floor. Green, so many shades of green, surrounds me, beckons me, delights me. Birds chirp, a soft breeze blows, clouds move overhead in the splotches of blue between the towering trees.
I came to the woods because, like so many others before me, I wanted – no, I needed – to experience a spiritual reset, to feel small next to the immensity of nature, and to rediscover that part of my soul that basks in the glory of my world. To that end, I came to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, an area of primitive beauty and wonder that too few have been able to see. I had only a few hours, not two years as did Thoreau, but for even only a few moments, I too was able to live deliberately, and to learn the lessons of the immense forest.
While most who want to experience the glory of California’s giant coast redwoods seek out Redwood National Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is no less impressive. About an hour south of Eureka, California, it sits astride US Highway 101, making for an easy detour for those driving down the major coastal thoroughfare. For those with time to spare, the aptly named Avenue of the Giants parallels the highway, but cuts through ancient growth forest with towering trees just off the road. But for those like me who only have a couple hours free between destinations, there is a single perfect destination: the Founders Grove.
There is perhaps no feeling quite like standing at the base of a 300 foot tree that has been a giant since even before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. Here, trees live 1500 or more years, reach close to 400 feet in height, and routinely exceed 25 feet in diameter. It is a feeling of being small, of being insignificant, of living but an instant. Here, humans are merely visitors in a realm that exceeds our understanding and grasp, a land of immensity almost beyond comprehension.
I wander the packed earth of the Founders Grove Trail and venture off onto the Mahan Loop Trail. With each step I marvel at a new giant. I press my hand to the soft wood of a 350 foot tree, wondering what it has seen in its life, what it might think of me. I crane my neck to try in vain to properly view its top, leaning back almost to the point of falling. A squirrel scampers up its trunk and birds flit overhead; I envy their ability to see from a different angle.
I pass the Founders Tree, its immensity impossible to comprehend from the trail, and the fallen Dyerville Giant, which was until its natural demise in 1991 – and the 2006 discovery of Hyperion in Redwood National Park – the tallest recorded living tree. Its roots tower above me, trunk stretching seemingly to infinity as it lies where it fell, the emptiness it left behind now home to new saplings that may someday reach its heights. Each turn in the trail brings a new wonder, and I soon find myself lost amongst the grandeur. (Fortunately, the Avenue of the Giants runs directly alongside Founders Grove, and I follow the road back to my car.)
There are 137 living trees measuring more than 350 feet tall. (There are likely more, but that is all that are recorded.) Of those, 100 exist here on Humboldt Redwoods State Park. The Stratosphere Giant, the tallest here in the park, is the fourth tallest measured tree on the planet, the top three all being in Redwood National Park. Yet so many eschew this place because of its “lowly” status as a state park. Don’t make that mistake.
I went to the woods because I needed a recharge from the craze of city life. I wanted to be one with my world, to feel the power of nature surround me and embrace me. Here in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the majesty of the forest filled my soul. For a few hours, I found what it was to live deliberately.
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