The feel of soft duff beneath my shoes with each step. My pulse quickening as I ascend the winding trail. The sound of the creek as I descend. These are the familiar elements of my pilgrimage to a secret spot in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They are the constants through the things that change through the seasons: light and shadow, warm air and flowers at trail’s edge or chilly wet days with fungi all around. The creek a trickle over the lip of a drop-off or a full waterfall. I have walked this trail for more than 20 years now, leading to twin ancient redwoods.
I first discovered these two giant trees on a hike to a different destination with my housemate when I lived and worked at an outdoor school in the area. I just happened to look up, and the trees off-trail down the slope were so enormous and compelling that I had to stop. I didn’t know then how special this spot would be to me all these years.
Last weekend, I clambered down through the thick duff, moving aside a few branches of a redwood sapling, sinking into years’ worth of needles and rotting deadfall. I stepped carefully on a route that deer have apparently made their own as well, conscious to disturb things as little as possible. And arrived at the two giants growing about six feet apart, survivors from the days of logging that tower over all the second growth around them.
I nestled against one and faced the other. The bark is a landscape unto itself, with spider webs and lichen on the blackened fire scars and way up the brown trunk. There is no way to see through the canopy to the tops of the trees above me, but I love just looking up as far as I can.
The young tan oak growing between them was not there when I first visited. Now it is at least twice my height, and its narrow trunk provides a comfy footrest.
On this day the air was chilly but still. The creek downslope was low and not audible. I could hear the birds moving around. It’s acorn season and the acorn woodpeckers were busy, chattering in their family groups and hammering acorns into their granary trees for later in the season.
Wrapped in my warm layers, I visited with one tree, then the other. I leaned against the trunk, reached up and touched the bark beside me. I closed my eyes, opened them, closed them again. Here I have found strength from these enduring ancients when I could not muster my own. I have grieved here after the death of friends. Sometimes I have silently celebrated the miracle that I am alive on this earth and thanked the universe for that blessing, leaving rejuvenated and mindful of all I have to be grateful for. A few times, I have brought people I love, so they could also benefit from these twin trees’ wisdom.
I cannot explain the depth of my connection to this place, but it is home for me in a way that nowhere else is.