Walking Amidst the Giants

'Advice from a Redwood tree :)'Early one Thursday morning in the middle of February I rose early to pack up for our big road trip. It was still dark outside and probably cold, but the prospect of going to some place warm and sunny perked me up. I woke up the kids, gulped down some coffee, had a hot shower and loaded up the car with food to feed an army. Something about road trips, always made us hungry. Even after a hearty breakfast, kids would be clamoring for something to munch hardly a mile into our trip!

We set the destination on our GPS for Salem, the capital of Oregon. As we hit the highway the sun was shining merrily without a single cloud to blot its radiance. We ate breakfast in the car as we sped south to the border of Oregon which was interestingly on a bridge. My daughter drew from her social studies lessons and told us how the Columbia River ran along the border of Washington and Oregon for miles together before it reached the Pacific Ocean. A couple of hours later we reached the historic city of Salem. We toured the Oregon State Capitol, a beautiful building with Grecian columns and murals of Lewis and Clark. Most of the building is made of marble with a gold statue of an Oregon pioneer at the top. The older capitol buildings were destroyed by fire but some of the columns were saved and can be seen on the grounds. The Capitol has some fine ceiling art, tall glass doors and wide stairways on either side, leading to the State Senate Chamber and the House of Representatives Chamber. Both chambers were deserted as they were not in session.

Lunch in the car was next, with egg and potato salad, broccoli and tofu stir fry and home-made cookies. Deepwood Estate was a short drive away from the Capitol. The 18th century Victorian home and gardens were open to the public. A silver-haired, pleasant lady greeted us and took us on a guided tour of the home. The home had stained glass windows, some furniture from that era and a solarium. Parts of the house had been renovated over the years, like the kitchen and the Porte Cochere or carriage port. Ornately carved door knobs and hinges and birds eye wood added a touch of style to the rooms upstairs. A player piano stood in the informal dining room and our tour guide played a merry song on it for us. Upstairs she wound up a rare music box called a euphonia, which sounded so melodious and could be heard all the way down in the living room.

Pictures of the families that lived in the house were sprinkled around the house. The guide showed us a copy of a book that was a favorite of two kids that lived in the house. One of them returned to the house years later and signed the book. The house had servants quarters, a dumb waiter, attic and basement. A door lead from the dining room to the outside, allowing guests to exit the house and board their carriages. A carriage house for the horses and a carriage port used to exist. The original owner had put many secret doors and openings all over the house but nobody knows where they are located. We strolled the gardens which held the promise of blossoms and beauty in the summer. The landscape artists for the gardens happened to be two ladies, something unusual in those days.

These days the Deepwood Estate hosts tea parties and outdoor weddings in its gorgeous gardens. It was time for us to see something more ancient that an old Victorian house. Southward we drove, towards Klamath, California. Along the way we watched in wonder as the shadows of the night revealed giant trees towering over us on either side of the road. We were in the land of ancient Redwoods. Some of these trees stood right here while dinosaurs roamed the earth. We craned our necks to see the top of the trees through the car windows but it was too dark. At 250 t0 300 feet, these trees are jaw-dropping amazing! We reached our hotel exhausted. But the kids planned to jump into the pool with their dad in tow. I decided to stay in the room, take a warm bath and heat up some dinner.

At the Prairie Creek State Park we took short hikes in the Redwood forests. We passed by trees whose trunks were so huge that when the four of us stood around the tree with our arms stretched out and barely touching, we couldn’t even cover half the trunk. We came across trickling streams, bridges and ferns. Some of the trees had fallen and lay on the forest floor. They were big enough to crush a car or truck. These trees loved to clump together and intertwine their roots like humans holding hands.

At one of the trail heads we found a hollowed out tree that was still standing upright. I named it “tree cave” and we all went inside and felt like we were being embraced by the tree. We stood in silent awe in front of “Big Tree” which was 1,500 years old, 68 feet in circumference and 304 feet tall. In another area of the park we drove through a tree. For some reason we could  not rent a mini-van for the trip and ended up getting a compact car. Guess what? If we had gotten the mini-van it wouldn’t have been able to go through the tree!

At the visitor center located further south the kids got their junior ranger badges and we were pleasantly surprised to see the beach right outside. The dancing waves beckoned to us. We rushed outside and walked on the sandy shore dotted with tree stumps. Rocks jutted out of the ocean and added to the drama of the waves. In the distance I could see a cloud of white basking on the beach. Harbor seals! My son and I trudged against the wind to get a closer look. We were disappointed to find a flock of sea gulls. But something else caught my eye and there right by the edge of a tide pool was a bunch of harbor seals huddling together. We kept our distance to avoid startling them. Some shimmied along and plunged into the water. One cute fella kept emerging from the water and playing peek-a-boo with us.

I really wanted to see elk, so we thought the elk meadow would be a good spot to see them in their natural habitat. On that day we found plenty of deer grazing in the meadow but not one elk. It was time to head back north to Crescent City to see the Battery Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse closed at dusk but the rocky beach and tide pool was the perfect setting for a gorgeous sunset. A narrow bridge made of pebbles connected the lighthouse on top of a hill to the beach. As the tide came in the bridge started slowly submerging. I was on the beach and my husband and kids were near the lighthouse. I waved frantically asking them to hurry lest they get stranded. We stood there in the cold windy beach, watching the waves crash on the rocks, push around them and between them, finding some way to go forward. The skies were a startling orange, with the pale pink mountains yonder and the lights flashing from the lighthouse intermittently. There is something about the salty air and rhythmic waves that washes away a year’s worth of fatigue from the soul. Soothing like the very womb of mother earth. Beautiful, mysterious and ever so temperamental. Full of wonder, all-engulfing and oh-so powerful.

In reverent silence we drove to Portland, Oregon, grateful that we had witnessed another grand spectacle of nature. As we neared the city, a thick fog enveloped us and remained well into the next day. It slowly lifted as we made our way to the Columbia River Gorge area. The very same place that Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea had traversed nearly 200 years ago to explore the west. Between the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River is the 2nd largest falls in the U.S. – the Multnomah Falls at a staggering height of 611 feet. It was a Saturday and Valentines Day, so the crowds were thick and the parking situation was grim. It was hard to capture the entire falls, consisting of the upper falls and the smaller falls that tumbled into the river, in one shot. A little bridge somewhere below the upper falls offered a breathtaking view of the falls. We hiked up to the bridge and felt the cool spray from the water fall on our skin. The trek to the top of the falls seemed long and arduous. Considering the long drive ahead of us, we opted out. We picked up some Chinese-take out and headed back home. I was reluctant to go back to the city bustling with activity, an uninviting urban jungle.

My son warned us – we are going to find the evergreen trees around our home really small. And he was right. We laughed at how tiny they were!

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