Living in San Jose, CA, a city with a population of just under 1 million people, during a pandemic is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because for nature lovers there are some truly amazing state and county parks around to visit. The downside of this is that now, when many people are looking to escape to nature, many of these state parks and some county parks have been closing their parking lots and/or trails to prevent people from gathering in mass.
After sheltering-in-place for about a month and a half, I was desperate to get out into nature and I don’t mean ‘neighborhood nature,’ which I’ve been making a point to see every day, I mean real nature! I knew I needed to get into the woods but finding a location to go was a bit challenging. I also realized that it wasn’t simply any woods that would due at this point. It was the giant Redwood trees that my heart so desperately needed to connect with.
John Muir had once said, “The mountains are calling and I must go.” A slightly edited version of this quote had been calling out to my heart now for weeks and today I simply could not ignore the words any longer: “The Redwoods are calling and I must go.”
There is something extraordinary about these enormous trees that heal me. Perhaps it’s their age and that they’ve seen so much history; this little blip of coronavirus is such a minuscule thing for the big giants which helps to put things in perspective. The trees have incredible endurance over fires and other challenges that hit them over the years which is nothing short of admirable. And their height and girth can not be overlooked; they command attention as they stand so magnificently tall and wide amongst the quiet forest surrounding them which is full of wildlife. If I believed in reincarnation I would be certain that in a previous life I was somehow connected with these trees. All I know is that today I needed to be around the large Redwoods.
The nearest Redwood park to me wasn’t far, just a 20 minute drive from my home if that. It was a small park but I figure I could at least get out in the trees and breathe for a bit and get away from the neighborhood with all of its never ending city sounds and the very loud chainsaw across our street beginning the process of trimming our neighbors’ tree.
After a 20 minute drive I arrived at the Redwood park to find it’s parking lot completely full with a sign reading “If the lot is full so is the park. Protect yourself from COVID-19 by not overcrowding parks.” OK. At this point a voice inside my head is screaming obscenities and I’m in tears. “Damn it! I just want to take a walk in the woods!!! Is that too much to ask?” I decided to leave and kept driving south on the freeway away from the San Jose until I found a different park with Redwood trees to venture into. In my mind I’d already picked my destination, my favorite park (which I will not say here for selfish reasons) but my hope was to stubble across something else sooner before having to drive so far.
Needless to say there was nothing else and 30 minutes later I found myself on the road outside my favorite park although not allowed to enter it since the parking lot was closed to visitors. Mind you, the PARK itself was not closed but just the LOT to keep it from overcrowding. So here I was again now 50 minutes from home looking at Redwood park from the outside, screaming obscenities inside my head and desperately looking for street parking which was also currently full! “AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!! Are you fricking kidding me?” Thankfully this time a spot opened up fairly quickly so I didn’t have to wait long. I parked the car and headed into the woods.
I was expecting the inside of the park to be a mob scene considering all the cars on the road but to my surprise I was wrong. I barely ran across anyone even in the beginning of my hike. To my great delight after a mile in when I arrived at my favorite spot, the Redwood loop, it was practically deserted! I could not believe my good fortune and couldn’t have asked for a greater gift! I walked slowly through the loop among some very large trees breathing deeply and savoring every moment. For days now my heart had felt broken and utterly defeated but now after just a few minutes among these giants I could feel my heart become lighter and beginning to heal as I breathed in the fresh air.
I continued to hike through the trails inside my favorite park seeing a few people here and there amongst the squirrels and the birds. It was much less crowded then in the past in the many times I’d visited the park before. After hiking for about an hour I took a break to sit on a log near a creek simply soaking in the beauty of it all. For the first time in a month and a half I was alone, no husband, no son, no sounds from the city, no people. It was so peaceful and serene. I felt joy. I felt peace. I was a tiny speck in a big forest amongst these beautiful trees and it felt great to be just a speck! I hugged at least one tree and took several pictures as I know I’ll want to look back upon them in the upcoming days to come.
There is something remarkably healing about being in the Redwood trees surrounded by nature. My heart which felt so heavy and inconsolable just hours before now feels lighter and more at peace. Before today it had been exactly 41 days since my last visit to real nature – 41 days! That’s much too long to go without getting out into nature.
Now as I type this blog back home at my desk in San Jose a police helicopter is circling above me like a pesky mosquito and I am already missing the trees terribly. I will listen more closely to my heart in the future and when it tells me that the Redwoods are calling I will most certainly go.