Smith River, CA
Once upon a time, Coast Redwoods – sequoia sempervirens, the everliving sequoia, the world’s tallest trees – occurred naturally in a stretch of coastal California and Oregon that amounted to about 2.1 million acres. OK, let’s drop the fairy tale-ing with time, especially with this species that can live for close to 2,000 years and die (upright or fallen, often nursing new, relative youngsters) for a further 500. Once upon the 1850s, Coast Redwoods occurred naturally in a stretch of coastal California and Oregon that amounted to about 2.1 million acres; today, less than 40,000 acres remain.
If you want a sense for what it means to be a modern, for the other side to this laptop or blackberry or shiny iMac you’re using to read (and I’m using to write), you must come and experience this place. I hadn’t even made into the Redwoods yet, but I believe that the pain inflicted on the land does not disappear as quickly as the trunks can fall, and I thought about what might be going on below me as I lunched with the Jackson 5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) in the sunshine outside of Smith River.
Down the road, a local watering hole was celebrating Friday afternoon, and I went in to share some stories and take some photos. The bartender was generous, offering me a spot to set up my tent outside of her house later that night. It was nice, I thought, to find a place to stay without much of a fight. Later that night, however, I was woken abruptly by the sound of smashing glass, and the bartender, her boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s brother ensconced in a passionate argument, all seeming to spiral around a collage. A collage? Seriously? In my tent, I flickered between the pain of the dispute and the discordance of hearing drunks wrap their tongue around the out-of-place word. Things are sure different in California.
The next morning, the brother proudly displayed the piece d’art that had set off the fight. In the house, all things seemed well. The bartender was playing with her daughter, nicknamed ”Sister”. Sister’s father was in jail in LA; her son’s father was living in the Canary Islands; the countertop held a fragrant pot of pot-infused butter; half a mile down the road was Pelican Bay State Prison, home to California’s worst criminals; narrow trunked redwoods dotted the roadside, tall without the width of experience. I believe that the pain inflicted on the land does not disappear as quickly as the trunks can fall, and it weighed heavily on my heart as I walked south from Fort Dick.