Nothing like staring into the trunk of a thousand-year-old tree to put the vicissitudes of your own life into perspective, as I discovered a couple of Sundays ago when I took my friend Kate for a lengthy tromp through Muir Woods. You’ve probably read about it—this ancient redwood forest a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco—but if you have yet to encounter it in person, let me strongly suggest that you put it on your “places to visit before I die” list.
For centuries these magnificent redwoods have flourished here, in a hush of fog and moisture, light and shade. Two thousand years ago, they provided shelter to the Miwok tribe of Native Americans. And in 1903 a farsighted man named William Kent somehow gathered up the princely sum of $45,000 to buy the woods, thereby saving them from almost certain destruction a few years later when the earthquake and fire of 1906 sent demand soaring for lumber. Kent named the woods after a renowned conservationist, John Muir, who was delighted by how Kent had saved the redwoods “from the axe and saw.”
In 1945, as World War II was coming to an end, the circle of trees known as Cathedral Grove was visited by delegates to an international conference in San Francisco setting up the United Nations, honoring the man who was its chief architect. In ceremonies under the redwoods, they remembered Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an “apostle of peace for all mankind.”
So much for a tiny slice of the history, which is inspiring on its own. Walking through the dappled sunlight of these woods—which begins with an examination of that thousand-year-old redwood trunk I was telling you about—is a powerful reminder of how individuals like William Kent and John Muir and Franklin Roosevelt can change the world, as well as how privileged we all are as humans to observe the harmony and majesty of nature, close-up.
Lacy spiderwebs, delicate ferns, pulsating clumps of orange ladybugs, the gurgle of water tumbling over the rocks of hidden creeks, firs and redwoods stretching so high into the sky it almost requires doing a backbend to fully appreciate them, are all part of the Muir Woods experience.
I wish I had the writing skill to describe it adequately. All I can tell you is that walking Muir Woods is the kind of outdoor adventure that restores the soul. Kate and I both came home clutching calendars, to remind us of how peaceful and happy we felt as we went off the busy main trail to explore a more challenging path deep inside the woods. As we walked along, sometimes chatting, sometimes silent, each of us reconnected with our inner seven-year-olds, for whom the nearby woods were our playroom and refuge.
Whatever natural beauty is close to where you live, I hope you will seek it out and let it refresh and restore you, as Muir Woods did for us.