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.
I present to you a pair of photographs:
The first is from Muir Woods on the Marin Peninsula of California. That morning was rainy and the colors are rich and dark and the setting is some natural/romantic variety of Baroque. Practically overwhelming.
The second is from Stone Valley this weekend, dry and crunchy with snow, the river mostly frozen at the surface, with currents of dark water beneath. More minimal, more quiet, more subdued. But is this trail any less beautiful than the first?
I may continue to bemoan the theme-park-like atmosphere of Muir Woods by midday on Saturday, but in the very early morning, with dawnlight scattering through the marine layer, it’s easy to forget about all that. There are no words to describe the place without resorting to cliché. Even so, the echoes of “Six Flags: Muir Woods” still exist, like these wood pathways designed to lessen the destruction that would be caused by enormous numbers of visitors on dirt paths.
Though it’s hours downstate from where George Lucas found his forest moon of Endor, Muir Woods packs the same enormous, wet redwood trees and lush vegetation that made the fictional planetoid so memorable. To have “spent” so much of my childhood wandering around on that other world (in my imagination), only to find myself really there, proved to be a spectacular treat at the end of my time in California.
The stunning, overwhelming, almost-heartbreaking Muir Woods National Monument in California has become a photographic cliché. (Thanks, Ansel Adams.) That doesn’t prevent me from discovering something new in every corner and every moment. The incredible contrast of scale between ferns and sequoias twists the mind, and the quiet, misty paths (early in the morning anyway) transport you to an overwhelming alternate world.