I was awed by the views from the mountaintops; I couldn't even take out my camera. It was too big, too beautiful, and too perfect. I've seen photographs of this area over the years so it felt oddly familiar, and yet, I also felt what it must have been like to be a pioneer, coming over those mountains and gazing at the sea below for the first time. I don't have the words to describe the thrill--or rather, I'm impatient to get on to what really took my breath away.
What made me pull out my camera was a quiet little woodland trail I followed up behind our hotel one morning. It didn't feature views--those could be seen from benches sited off another branch of the trail. Instead, I climbed up and into the woods, along a stream that splashed over rocks and across fallen trees. And everywhere I looked, there were eery reminders of the Big Sur fires that ravaged the Basin Complex in the summer of 2008.
the inner bark and the cambium layer under that. You could see, by following the scarred trees, how the fire had jumped down the mountain; not even the stream, which might have been quite low that summer if it was running at all, stopped it. Those trees must have burned like mythic torches.
Now all is quiet in the woods. What is truly miraculous is the new life stirring. Tiny shoots of redwood spring up around dessicated stumps.
The charred forms have a sculptural beauty; the texture of the blackened bark is remarkable. I couldn't take my eyes off the scorched earth--and I wondered whether it had the sort of fascination that a terrible wreck on the highway has. You slow down, peer over the disaster, feel grateful that you missed it, and wonder at the warning. Heads up. Slow down. I kept running my eyes over the scorched shingling, trying to make sense of the patterns. But of course it is senseless, in one way--so much devastation. And it is also, remarkably, the way of nature. Only 150 years ago, the redwood forest in coastal California was the size of Connecticut. Less than 3% of it exists today. Here we should stop a moment and give thanks that we have a Parks Department in this country.
I kept returning to that trail, over the next few days. My son Alex walked it with me, and he told me that the new redwood saplings that spring up in rings around the base of the old characters, the clones of the parent tree, are referred to as "the children." I almost don't want to look it up to see if it is true, or simply sweetly poetic.
Fires cleanse and renew, even as they destroy. Life goes on, even as it goes out. I couldn't take my eyes off these blackened views--more expansive than the vistas from mountaintop to sea. They are, somehow, views of eternal life. Or so they seemed to me, on my quiet, dimly lit walks.