Towards Y2K9 (11): Green Cathedrals

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era.” – John Steinbeck

We had seen the Sierra Nevada sequoias some years ago, but we hadn’t seen the redwoods of Northern California. Well the experience of awe was similar when we got there … and while the sequoias were somewhat more voluminous, and impressive as individuals, the redwoods impressed us because they are the highest trees on earth, and there were (at least that is what we thought) so many of them, turning the forest into something completely and unbelievably surreal.

We spent three or four days in the area, but every time we came back into the forest to walk a trail, or every time we drove one of those little streets that lead straight through the redwood forest, we couldn’t believe what we saw. There are few things that inspire open-mouthed awe as much as the redwoods do. You can’t help being impressed.

And this even though only 4 percent of the original “old growth” redwood forest is left – the “harvesting” was stopped just in time to leave some conservation areas, such as the Redwood National Forest. Incredible what human greed can do.

An additional awe inspiring factor when walking the redwood forest is the utter silence. There are birds singing in spring of course, but at this time of the year, in early October, the birds are quiet except for a lonely crow now and then. So you walk the green dense forest, surrounded by green skyscrapers and large ferns, and it is completely silent.

As Europeans who aren’t used to the presence of potentially dangerous animals, we also were just a little bit afraid at times, which added another factor to our experience. Rangers told us that bears would not go near humans, and that it would be extremely unlikely for us to see one. But, this forest was very dense and you can’t see far – there might well be a bear behind every corner, theoretically. And the fact that we had met a black bear quite close to us some years ago in the sequoia area, not too far away from other people, made us quite conscious that they are there somewhere. So there was always a slight tension in the background of our forest enjoyment, especially when we were all alone in the deep forest. Even though we love bears a lot!

An interesting internal experience for me was (I notice that I hesitate to talk about this, but … what the heck) that I got very conscious at one point of my mind and how it kept limiting my experience. The beauty of the scenery should have overwhelmed me, but it didn’t. It felt “flat” and normal. I felt like the beauty, or my capacity of being touched, was reduced to a trickle, my brain didn’t let much of it through for some reason. Have you noticed your brain doing that sometimes? I’ve noticed it often when I was in a place of exotic beauty and I painfully felt the limitation of being in my everyday self.

We talked about this phenomenon which was good – after feeling some frustration at first, I felt more curious and looked at various aspects of it. This little amount of disidentification, combined with communicating about it, was enough to dissolve the “blocked” feeling, and my brain – without me doing anything consciously – changed into the nonconceptual mode – it suddenly remembered how to do it. There was some time of intense thoughtless presence after this, slowly dissolving into “normality” while driving my car and getting back into thinking.

This kind of remembering movement to me is the most mysterious of all experiences. It can’t be made to happen (at least I can’t do it). When remembering happens, we suddenly know, and then the beauty is no longer out there – we are right at the source of beauty, independent of circumstances, as long as compulsive thinking and the broom closet of personality can be quiet and we are free. Oh how easily does this get another thing to want, another thing to be frustrated about when it can’t be reached. But the brain and whatever it is that we call consciousness goes its own way, and we better don’t meddle with its natural flow I guess.