A Morning in the Forest

Or, a love letter to getting lost

We woke up before dawn, when the City was still glowing under streetlights. We got coffee in the twilight and drove past the Ocean crashing awake. We drove over the bridge—the top surprisingly visible on this foggy day—and through hilly roads for maybe half an hour, before pulling up into the already peopled parking lot of the Forest.

It was maybe 8:30 in the morning by then. Dense fog draped over the redwood canopy, diffusing the soft light. Once we left the parking lot, all we could hear were the little streams rushing by and the occasional scurrying in the ferns. Loudest of all was the brilliant verdure of the forest. After all the news of our state’s catastrophic drought, one could believe green had forever left our landscape. But here, in this redwood hamlet just north of the City, green shines bright.

We started along the main trail, hugging the creek. Periodically we’d see other groups of morning birds; no one spoke anything louder than a gentle “hellogoodmorning”. Eventually we reached a crossroad: we could stay in this well-defined area, or…

We chose to venture away from the creek. The path started to rise, the morning birds started to fade away. We reached another crossroad. Once again, we could go back to the creek, or…

And this second choice would lead us along a very long hike, through entirely different forestscapes and long stretches of solitude and the uneasy, exciting feeling of maybe, possibly, being a little bit lost.

But we didn’t know that yet.

After choosing to depart from familiar territory altogether, our walk suddenly became a hike, with the path veering upwards into the foggy sky. We sometimes came across more serious hikers, ready with their walking sticks and filled water bottles. We didn’t have walking sticks—we barely had good walking shoes—nor did we have nearly enough water, but luckily for us, we did have our cameras.

The Forest is, perhaps above all, a sculpture garden. We’d come across a giant fallen tree, roots gnarling outwards like the heavy bronze hands of a Rodin. Where a tree had been felled and not simply fallen, smooth geometric cuts contrasted against the rugged bark and downy moss. Sometimes an ancient stump would jut out in the path, a wild Bernini full of expression and movement.

The mushrooms were particularly glorious. Clusters of pillowy white-capped darlings, frilly yellow ruffles climbing up the trees, tiny russet gumdrops with the daintiest stems. In this foggy watercolor of green and brown, they offered autumnal strokes of bold shapes and joyfully unexpected textures. For at a glance, these woods are akin to a Serra, uncomplicated and undetailed and giant, but in the little sculptures of woodgrain and mushroom caps lied the faerie world of Belgian children’s books or Icelandic legends: a quiet, playful mystery to get lost in forever.

And we did get lost. We hiked until we lost track of time. The forest changed from redwoods to small trees covered in green lichen, green moss, and green ferns. We could hear running water but couldn’t see anything, just the green. There was nothing to indicate how far we had walked or where we were at all. We just knew we were somewhere, maybe.

Hours after we had made that fateful second turn in the path, we suddenly came upon a meadow, a startling clearing with a giant rock in the middle. One of us scaled it and posed on top like an Arthurian faerie queen. For we were still lost, and hungry and thirsty and tired, but we also felt like we had crossed through the veil and lived to tell about it: we had let ourselves get lost without getting scared. Such a majestic meadow could only be the Forest’s way of saying, You did well.

From there we refound that creek from the beginning of our journey, and walked the surprisingly long way back to the parking lot with a sense of relief and accomplishment. It was much later in the day and we came across large groups of people just beginning their walks into the Forest. In a way, we regretted leaving the quiet of the distant woods. Its magic couldn’t quite stay with us in the world of tourists and gift shops.

All the more reason to keep getting lost.

Dedicated to my mother, and my grandmother, and my great-grandmother, a long line of women getting lost in nature.