There is no feeling in the world comparable to standing on a forest floor, surrounded by redwood trees as they quietly, mightily graze the sky. It wasn’t a feeling I was familiar with when we first moved to Northern California 3 years ago. An acutely urban creature, I am completely at ease amidst concrete and glass towers, maddening traffic, and the ceaseless buzz of humanity that characterizes metropolitan cities. Be it New York, Philadelphia, Boston, L.A., Paris, Washington D.C., Miami, London, Seattle, San Francisco, or my own Bombay, I have felt a sense of comfort in city air. I have never known nor craved the outdoors, or wanted a home with a sprawling garden like some folks dream of. The streets were to get to places. Who aimlessly rambled outside their home when there was so much fun to be had with indoor pursuits? So when I first walked into a redwood state park 40 minutes from our home, a never-before hush descended on me.
There, in patches of sunlight that struggled through dense treetops, I experienced an exquisite sense of aloneness. Not to be confused with loneliness, no, just a feeling of being the only human in that cool, scented universe, being watched by companionable flora and the creatures that call it home.
Occasionally, there were others who passed by respectfully, with a nod and genial smile, their sneakers crunching along the path, babies on their front or bottles of water on their hip. Then, I was alone again.
The silence pressed in on my eardrums. It is amazing how deafening a lack of sound can be. There was, quite literally, nothing. I strained to catch a distant chopper. I recognized the sound of my breath. And all the while, I was dwarfed by these magnificent natural marvels that have stood guard for several centuries.
I touched their tannin-tinted bark. Imagined what they have witnessed. Has their environment changed so much in the last 500 years? Some trunks lay horizontal, their gnarled roots exposed. Others formed a ring around their Mother Tree, a mammoth entity worthy of awe. A carpet of ferns sprawled around them, gleaming emerald-gold in the slanting light. Embarrassedly, I hugged one of the slimmer trees, my arms wrapped around its solid girth. Bloody Californian, I mocked myself inwardly. But there was wisdom in soaking up their energy, and I was conscious of doing just that as I loitered, no particular plan in mind, no agenda, just a wish to be.
Deeper in the woods is a river. Jumping across stones, I stripped my socks off and wiggled toes in an icy stream. I’ll never be Huck Finn, it’s true, but for someone for whom taking off footwear outside the home is a Parsi version of haraam, you’ve got to concede it was a beginning!
The sun traveled, ruling a cloudless sky. Such welcome warmth in its friendly rays! I inhaled the pungent, heady scent of our ancient friends one last time, then turned and walked toward ‘civilization’. And this worshipper of all things urban knew an unexplored part of her had awoken.
I leave you with pictures from an afternoon jaunt to Land of Medicine Buddha and the ‘Enchanted Forest’ in the Santa Cruz mountains, and hope you experience the peace I did. Click on any picture you wish to view larger.
[Credits: Instagram on my Google Nexus phone, and the charming Land of Medicine Buddha.]