Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Falling

I wish I could have taken a picture. It would have defined the wonderment of life. But I knew there wasn't enough light and the time exposure would have required a tripod and a lot of luck which I did not have. I just had to burn the image into my mind so I wouldn't forget it.

This was the last trip. I had made the journey three times before, but had been thwarted by circumstance short of my goal. The goal was to hike to the Tall Trees Grove. This is where the largest trees in the world grow. They are located deep within the Redwood Forest. In my past attempts, rivers had been too high, bridges had been washed out, or the trail had been closed. But I loved the Redwoods. I felt at home there among the sheltering giants. I wanted to take one more crack at it.

As I drove up Highway 1 in California, I decided to camp for the night at the Andrew Molera Walk-In camp ground. This was a camp ground on the coast near the Big Sur River. You had to leave your car at a parking area and hike to the camping ground about a half mile toward the shore. I found a place to park and packed in my tent and sleeping bag.

The Andrew Molera Campground was a large open area about a half mile from the shore. It was late in the afternoon as I set up my tent and made camp. As the sun slowly set, I decided to walk the trail to the shore and catch a glimpse of the ocean. It was a beautiful summers evening, and the smell of the sea and the coastal flora was like an intoxicating perfume.

As I walked the path through the coastal vegetation, I passed an old one room school house that had been marked as an historic site. It hadn’t been restored and seemed old as the land it sat upon. In the cool moist air of the coast, I couldn’t imagine a time that it had actually been used. My mind wandered to the 1930s and the children that may have lived in the area and walked here to learn their lessons next to the Pacific surf. It seemed so far removed from the school buses and concrete classrooms that I had known as a child.

Past the school house the path followed a meandering stream that was Big Sur river as it trickled toward the ocean, taking water from the coastal mountains down toward the sea.

The path then made its way through a tunnel of ferns and shrubs and eventually ended on a cliff overlooking the ocean. High on the cliff was a bench where I sat and watched the sun disappear below the horizon. It was a scene of absolute tranquility with the sound of the surf and the smell of the sea mixing with the greenery of the California coast.

As the sun disappeared and the sky darkened, I witnessed something that I had never seen before. As the veil of night descended and the stars slowly made their appearance, they were reflected in the ocean as I looked to the west. The thousand points of light above my head ran down to the horizon where they slowly faded into the coastal mist and then re-appeared at my feet in the placid ocean as it rolled toward the shore and broke over the rocks.

At that point, I could have not been further away from civilization. I could not have been more at peace or appreciated more beauty. These were the moments that I took the trips for. Each time I went, I found something unexpected, something magical.

It eventually dawned on me that I had to make it back to camp and that the way would be dark and unknown. I had the foresight to bring a flashlight and headed back down the vine covered trail to the camping area.

As I walked under and through the bushes I once again came upon the stream that flowed to the ocean. While I had been on the bench taking in nature’s light show, the tide had come in and backed up the stream to its headwaters.

The babbling brook had been transformed into a mirror smooth pond and as the trail skirted along its banks I stopped in awe.

The stars that burned so brightly overhead where reflected like a mirror in the water at my feet. I paused and turned off my flashlight. There, in the coastal darkness, with only the sound of the distant surf and the evening frogs, the stars surrounded me. There was no moon. There was no other light. For that moment, I stood on the edge of the infinte.

There are times when your mind plays tricks on you and you have to rely on logic to show you the way. As I gazed around me, my eyes told me that if I stepped off that bank, I would fall into infinity. There was no ground, there was no water, there were only stars in a vast sea of emptiness. But logic told me if I took that step, I would get wet. My mind wrestled with the thought, and logic won out. It usually does.

I turned the flash light back on, illuminated the path once more, and headed back to the campground. The campground was teaming with life when I returned. There were fires raging in dozens of fire pits, with groups standing around singing, laughing and drinking. It appeared as though some medieval carnival had sprung to life when the sun went down.

I made some dinner and went to bed with the strains of guitars and laughter outside my tent. My mind returned to the dark bank of the stream and continued to question whether or not I would have fallen into those stars.

I knew I could never go back and find out. It was a door that opened for just one moment in time. A door that showed me something not visible in the ‘real’ world. I hope I get another chance to open that door. Maybe next time I will step off the bank. I will always be curious.

(clicking the picture shows an aireal view of the Andrew Molera State Park, with the cliffs and Big Sur river visible. The web site for the park can be found here )