Back on the road the day blooms cold and foggy. We follow our old friend highway one up into the misty forest. Giants loom in the murk as the highway slinks around their feet. Huge trees disappear like jack’s beanstalk into the grey sky. We wind down again to the sea, where a cold wind pushes wisps of fog up the cliffs and through the trees.
We are cold and damp and getting blown around but it’s too incredible to care. We detour into Red Wood National Park. Threading the motorbikes down dark caverns before our elders. When we pull over and shut off the bikes a heavy silence envelopes the forest.
As we explore up a trail and deep into a grove of huge trees the silence follows us. Be calm it insists, whisper, move slowly, be at peace. Patience oozes from the moist clovers, mosses and 300 foot tall redwoods. We sit on the soft earth without speaking, overcome by this place. It is quite literally, bigger than us. We are on the side of a gently sloping ravine. Each tree is so wide it reminds me of a building. The understory is open, moist, carpeted and dark. Hundreds of feet above us these fatherly pines have soaked up the sunlight. A vague green glow filters down through the cathedral. The ground feels hollow, soft and resonant. It is a world we are instantly at home in. The forest covers us up and coddles us like an infant returned to swaddles. Nowhere is the earth’s nurturing hospice so palpable. There’s infinite lessons to be learned there. Writing this now I wish we had stayed longer.
Out on the foggy tarmac again we rumble down a side road, across a meadow with lounging elk, and up a steep dirt grade. From the map it looks as though this road will dead end on the Lost Coast, a rugged stretch of unroaded and unspoiled coastline.
We follow the road in circles through the trees before traversing beach meadows of bowing grass. Eventually we reach the end of the road. We park the bikes and meander down a path through a glade of sparse wind blown trees and then hop a stream to find ourselves in a little mossy canyon. We skip upstream, giant ferns hang overhead, millenniums sculpted this little magic garden. We play on logs, balancing until we stumble into the shallow stream. It’s good fun and Samantha and I are doing what we do best, turning our adventures into a romantic walk in the park. Nothing could be better than what we are doing right now. Exploring wild nature, together. The motorcycles sit happily in the sandy lot, eager to take us to our next adventure.
We stop in Eureka for a late lunch. Timber town. Logging barons built their fortunes on the backs of lumberman who felled the red woods for a paycheck. What desperate and evil beings we can sometimes be. Opulent Victorians line the streets of this old and rough town. A town of saloons and whorehouses transformed. We sit at a sidewalk cafe and sip espresso where one short century ago madams and lumberman once trod.
At the brewery I glance out the window and realize something hasn’t changed, our appetite for destruction. Lumber trucks still parade up and down highway one. They haul the dead trees from forest to mill just as they’ve done since commercial lumbering first brought saw to trunk. The highway is littered with the bark of hauled trees and beyond the parks the scene is as ugly as ever, but more proficient. One massive machine grips the tree at its midpoint, slices through its trunk with a massive disc and stacks it for trucking. Turning a living forest into a commodity in one remorseless sweep of its mechanical arm. We rode through endless barren hillsides stripped to splinters; in the Fremont National Forest, the Umpqua, Rogue River, Siskyou, Winema. The last of America’s great forests literally auctioned off to the highest bidder. In many ways it’s a tangible example of our government’s bias. Rather than safeguarding Americas living treasures we give it away. There are still forests here, it’s not too late, but first we have to abandon our pioneering mentality. Our blind rush to kill and sell anything marketable. Are we that desperate and impoverished that we are reduced to strafing our wilderness to survive? These lumberman are as endangered as the forests they’re killing, once the trees are gone so are they.
And that’s another baffling thing? All across the wild lands of this great nation the people most intimate with the earth are the least interested in its stewardship. We met well drillers who shot and killed anything that lived. They proudly told us how they shot coyotes on the road and stomped their chests to extinguish the last flicker of their breath. Even mountain lions, shot for no reason with guns bought at the “sporting goods” store. Those who survive by the land, eat from it, define themselves by it and earn their living from it remain stubbornly indifferent to it, relish its destruction as if fighting some mysterious liberal ghost by destroying their own world. To disrespect an animal, a tree, a wild river is to make ourselves less than animal, demoted to that dark, brutal and ignorant place that is reserved for only one species on this earth, the human. But in our hearts we are good and generous people. We are tender and stricken by empathy not only for other humans but animals and even landscapes. We are, in our best incarnations, divinely affectted by a simple mountain view, a wind stroked waving meadow of grass, a raging stream plummeting through a ravine. There is something in us that is intoxicated by wildness. We are capable of feeling the defiant spirit of wilderness deep inside our soul. How we express that spirit will ultimately write the story of our survival on this good earth.
Out on the highway I instinctively thrust my arm out at a passing logging truck, thumb pointedly downwards. I see the man in the cab, he raises his hand as if to wave and then sees my thumb, his face turns. I am suddenly struck with sorrowful regret for my action. And perhaps for a brief moment all of us, lumberman and tree hugger, feel the awful weight of this time, the last stand of the great forests, upon our shoulders.