Art in the Redwoods
Last June, on my birthday, my husband and I drove north to the coastal redwoods, one of the most beautiful parts of California. I am posting my impressions rather belatedly, but the experience has lasted through the summer and I expect beyond, so here it is.
Traveling from Sonoma to Mendocino to Humboldt County, I behold the gradual appearance of grand trees tiered in green harmony, giving the impression of sitting respectfully on top of each other. Visual and visceral, the open spaces of California are a relief. Driving through that tree-covered terrain, I know I am home. I can breathe, I can relax.
My mentor and meditation teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, invites the thought of “shared breaths being co-created by you and all the green in the world.” She says she sometimes says to herself, “the trees and I are breathing each other back into life.” This is how I feel when I am in that northern sphere of giant trees near the ocean.
That June day, the air is fine, light, ethereal. Like a sweet memory it comforts. Just a 5 hour car ride. Trinidad, a small seaside town in Humboldt County, population 367 at the last count, was our destination. Though it’s registered as an incorporated city, I think of Trinidad as a little lighthouse fishing village, sitting above the harbor, exquisite rock formations jutting out of the Pacific, attracting tourists from all over the world. Today, I am one of them.
Not long after 9/11, I read an interview with Robert Redford extolling the virtues of motor trips. Scared of air travel, people took to the highway and re-discovered vacation pleasures by land. Redford talked about the difference between zipping through time zones in an instant and moving through a landscape moment by moment, feeling the almost imperceptible changes in colors, sounds, and textures. Suddenly you realize you are in completely new territory.
As an artist I appreciate slowing things down. My eye sees, my body senses, a new season, the light, changing weather, scented forests, bird sounds new to my ear. This trip the promise of summer hovers softly and I sing the air itself. A dry, clear heavenly air. A silky veil of light appears between me and the mountains of green trees. Arriving in Trinidad, I am surprised by the late day sun. No fog. Another birthday gift. Settling into our cottage, we gaze at calm waters and a glowing horizon, a sassy red velvet sunset splashing across the sky.
On our way to Lady Bird Johnson Grove the next morning, we stopped for breakfast at the “World Famous Palm Café” in Orick, CA. This is THE best, friendliest café in the world, open 365 days a year. Onward to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, my favorite of all redwood groves. Sometimes grandeur competes with peacefulness. Here, both prevail. One is instantly moved by the gift of the trees. Photos along the way remind visitors of Lady Bird’s arrival in 1968 as the grove is dedicated in her name.
Walking on the trail, I notice pink rhododendrons rising high against the giant trees. Covering the earth floor, tiny white star flowers grow out of variegated green heart leaves, the trees themselves like giant hearts, giving life to one vast body. In this grove, you know you’re in a sacred place, the sheltering trees holding ancient untold stories. The people we met came from around the country and around the world to walk in this grove. A friend texted my husband: “Hug a tree for me.” And we did. Haven’t done that since the sixties! And what’s so bad about hugging a tree anyway? Laughing, we leaned into their solid trunks, their energy on loan to whomever wished to embrace them. We continued walking the short trail, a circle of light and love and wholeness in one little mile and a quarter.
That night I felt awake, alive, calmed by a great day in nature. Savoring this day, I wanted to draw. Sometimes I forget how fiercely I rely on the outdoors to refresh and renew my ragged nervous system and to inspire my art. In Sonoma, we have a lovely back yard with its own redwood trees but I don’t visit them daily and I’ve never hugged them. That June I had to go a distance, to new surroundings to return to my soul that is here with me all the time.
Our little cottage had a huge bathroom. In the bathroom was a loveseat. It was late and the only space I could turn on the light without waking my husband. So that’s where I drew. My sister and brother-in-law had given me a gorgeous set of oil pastels they purchased in Paris. Like a little kid with a new pair of shoes, I tried them on. I had brought a small 6 x 8 sketchbook.
Playing with the colors, I enjoyed the waxy crayon feeling, the brightness and intensity. Drawing with oil pastels is expressive, fun. A nice change from my more muted style. Starting with no particular idea in mind, drawing bright and small, the sketch was turning into a big setting sun. Water and waves and a hint of mountains appeared. Blending the colors, smearing and rubbing with fingertips and tissue, I remembered that the day hadn’t actually ended in a sunset. I wasn’t drawing trees and flowers. Yet I knew what I was drawing was prompted by the day, its peacefulness, its purity, its newness in a timeless landscape. I could have drawn all night.
Responding to the day, to nature, beauty, the history of the land, I felt content. Resting in the colors, I felt grateful to add my bit of creation to the story.