"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." - John Muir
There was once over two million acres of redwood forests along the coasts of California and Oregon. Now, only three percent of it remains. It is not hard to imagine where the redwoods have gone. Human habitation and economic forces had driven these mighty sentinels from their tranquil domains. Perhaps with divine intervention, preservationists of the early 20th century had the foresight to embrace the glory of a small cluster of woods in the northern portion of San Francisco Bay.
Protected as a national forest, the Muir Woods National Monument is home to redwood trees averaging 600 to 800 years old. These coast redwoods tower over 250 feet tall. Their trunks rise from the forest floor like columns, and their branches reach like buttresses holding an arching roof of leaves and needles. As rays of sunlight penetrate through the canopy and touch the dense understory, one enters this divine space as if it were a cathedral, where the spirit of nature itself is present and celebrated.
Over the weekend, my family and I joined a congregation of people who had come from far and wide to make their pilgrimmage. We found respite in the coolness of this wooded sanctuary while most of northern California was bathed in summer's heat. The feeling of reverence was immediate. It was like when I was in Catholic grade school entering through our heavy church doors: I would dip a finger into the Holy Water and make the sign of the cross on my forehead. My mood shifted instantly to solemnity.
There was no Holy Water at the entrance to the Muir Woods park, but there was moisture in the air that annointed the congregation. A raised boardwalk and decomposed granite paths guided us through the park. Redwood Creek meandered quietly through the horsetails and clover. Decayed, fallen branches lay peacefully along the paths. Flying bugs danced about high in the trees, visible only as light reflected off their delicate wings. Sonoma chipmunks confidently munched on crumbs dropped by young children. We processed through the park. We breathed in Nature's breath, an earthy, primal, green smell.
We pointed to this and that, and made scientific and artistic observations. One thing was evident to me, using an anthroposophical lens: antipathy was helpful in seeing all the percepts around me. They came into my I and concepts formed and sensations developed. But the concepts and sensations drew me into the spirit of what lay behind the percepts. I saw the clover, the equisitum, the rocks, leaves, tree bark; I felt the coolness of the air; smelled the decomposition of earth material; and I heard the birds and the trickling of water. First antipathy, then sympathy. We ourselves were present in the trees and the water and the rocks. It was a relational cycle that helps us humans appreciate the elements and also realize we are of the elements. John Muir's quote is right on: life is interconnected, and we are "hitched" to it as well.
We made a communion with the spirit of Nature. The word communion suggests completeness through togetherness (unity from community). I must believe that Nature herself was made even more beautiful by our very own presence.
Jennifer and our kids