When my graduate school co-conspirators visited the Bay Area during sabbatical, we couldn’t avoid a trip to the Muir Woods to be back among the enormous redwoods. I won’t deny that I pretended for a moment that I was on Endor.
Historical patterns of land conservation in the Bay Area mean that the gradient between densely populated and relatively “empty” spaces is particularly steep. That nearby density means that maintaining “wild” spaces requires a theme-park like approach of fenced, paved trails. Given the erosion challenges faced by the peaks of the Adirondacks, perhaps this isn’t the worst solution.
In a forest of very vertical forms, this V-shaped pair of trees is another example of Muir Woods contrarians. Taken with a tiny aperture, the resulting V-shaped lens flare makes me think of some optical axe, chopping trees apart.
The sequoia trees of Muir Woods stand straight and proud (just like that Neil Young song), but not every tree is so cooperative. Leaning at a jaunty angle and encrusted with moss and wee ferns, this nonconformist of a tree doesn’t have time for any of the “straight up” nonsense.
Muir Woods astonishes and tempers with its beauty, but I had trouble avoiding the feeling that it was all a bit manicured and controlled by man. At first, that disappointed me. When I thought back to some of the gorgeous Zen gardens I’ve visited, however, I realized that curated natural beauty can be just as spectacular and authentic as true wilderness. The gentle drizzle between sequoias and down into the creek is the American version of the Zen garden.
Not far from Muir Woods, the Pacific coast cliffs of California are a starker, steeper, and foggier place than I expected. The nearly sheer cliff face, the scraggly trees hanging on for dear life, and the weather- (and person-) beaten railings make the whole place feel mythical. The fog density hit just the right soupiness on this particular day; we could just barely see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks below.