The Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) trees exist along the western coast from southern Oregon down through the top half of California. Coming into contact with living things of this scale and age produces a unique mix of feelings.
On entering the ancient forest it’s immediately apparent that this is a special place. You naturally look up (way up) at them with awe. They become your focus. You slow down. You often can’t see the top of them. It’s hard to fully take-in what you’re looking at.
If you’re hiking near the coast there is often fog that will pass through the forest, sometimes mixing with sunshine, as if the trees weren’t surreal enough. This fog makes the air damp, you can smell the mix of the bright green life growing on surfaces and the less-tangible life on the ground in decomposing matter.
There is a notable absence of wildlife down around ground level – you might see the odd bird, but generally it is very quiet, the atmosphere is good at absorbing sound. This silence seems to punctuate what you see.
You feel humbled, excited and a little vulnerable. You revere the struggle and the preciousness of life. Feeling the age of the trees makes you aware of your own mortality.
Even though the path you are walking on exists for guidance and is designed to keep people connected to the forest (and also keep them from straying), it feels like a bit of an intrusion into this extraordinary place — more so than in other hiking areas.
This kind of sensory-based experience exists very much “in the moment”, as opposed to those with tangible outcomes where one can take something away that represents what happened (I used a service, or took a picture and it enabled me to do this). Looking at the photo at the start of the post may have impressed you. It describes certain things; relays some information, but what it provides does not come close to the real experience. The very contemporary reaction of immediately reaching for cameras & phones when in a place like the redwood forest makes sense, but it is only a marker; a trigger for the brain to try and recreate what was seen, heard, and felt.
You can’t recreate experiences such as these, but one way to carry the experience further is to pay attention to how the senses react, and how in turn that leads to thoughts and questions. When thoughts and emotions of this significance are raised they create a new awareness, enriching the understanding of experiences — one’s own and those of others.