My soul was forged in the redwood forest

by Jon

The reason why we feel good when going to a great forest or a hill is because our spirits are usually cramped. – Chuangtse

I have enjoyed the wilderness my entire life. A decade in Scouting let me hike and camp up and down California, and one year even gave me a week in the forests of Oʻahu. But that’s not where my love of the great outdoors began.

As far back as I can remember, my family has made an annual camping trip to the California Redwoods. We’ve hit a few different spots, but our primary choice is Burlington campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Burlington has long history with my family; my grandparents used to take my mother there when she was a child.

We know the campground inside and out. We’ve hiked on every trail, from the short jaunts down to the river, to the two mile trek to Weott, where we stop to pick blackberries for tomorrow’s pancakes. As children we’d stop at the general store to buy comics and ice cream before the long hike back to camp. We ride our bikes down the the Visitor Center, and look at the same old displays we’ve known and loved for years. We hang out at camp and play cards or talk story around the campfire.

Some years we make the two hour drive to visit Paul Bunyan at the Trees of Mystery; other years we head to Ferndale, where we explore the little shops and admire the Victorian homes. As a child I’d spend forever in the used bookstores, trying to decide how best to spend my allowance.

In recent years, the highlight has been the trek to our secluded beach on the river. We drive a few miles up from camp, pull over on the side of the highway, and climb down the embankment. Then we pack our gear into an inflatable raft and swim to the beach on the other side, where it’s inaccessible by dry land.

We spend the day exploring the beach, swimming in the river when it gets too hot or stopping to make mud-castles. And at the end of the day we have to pack everything up again for the return swim, and the wet scramble back up to the highway.

Burlington and the redwoods are more than just a favorite vacation spot, it’s our home away from home, a place of family legends. The two times I almost drowned. The time my brother skidded his bike underneath a truck. The time we were hiking and an earthquake set the whole wood rocking. Each year we add more to our trove of Burlington stories.

This year I get the pleasure of introducing others to our family traditions. My girlfriend Anne and I will drive down from Seattle; it’ll be her first time camping in the redwoods. I’ll also be witness to the breaking in of my two nephews, as they write themselves into the family history at Burlington.

I’ve seen a good deal of the world’s beauty in my travels, but there’s a certain swell of the soul that only comes when standing before the majesty of a redwood forest.

It is, and shall forever remain, my favorite place in the world.

/jon