In Praise of Redwoods
In these challenging quarantine times, the appearance of pink cherry blossoms, spring’s harbingers, in the park where I walk is a spark of light and hope. Spring is officially a month away here in Chile but the warmer days have encouraged the blossoms to show off their cheery, silken beauty.
That hope helps me bear the tragic news of the wildfires in California, my home state. Most saddening is the news of the devastation of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park. I know the territory well. In the 1950’s for four years I attended Huckleberry Woods, a Girl Scout camp in Big Basin. What a priceless childhood experience to be immersed for two weeks among ancient redwoods! It’s no wonder I became an avid tree-hugger.
And we were truly immersed. Divided into groups according to age, we were assigned to separate areas in the woods. We slept in sleeping bags on the ground, softened by accumulations of fragrant redwood needles. The towering trees were our only roof. We lashed sticks together with twine using our knowledge of knots to construct shelves and hangers for our belongings. There were latrines and cubicles for bucket showers with water we heated in an oil drum over a fire. We took turns with fire duty.
It was inevitable that we’d develop crushes on our counsellors, young women with names like Chipmunk, Otter, Bluejay and Termite. Cottontail was our rather stern nurse. The young male cooks in our outdoor kitchen and dining area were also the objects of our girlish infatuation.
Each chilly morning we’d rise to the call of the bugle and dress in our camp uniform, shorts and a pull-on blouse, called ‘Greenies’ (of course, they were green) and a maroon tie knotted twisted into a unique square -ish knot. We started our day with a flag raising and the National Anthem. After a hot oatmeal breakfast, we’d wash our mess kits in a bucket and head off for a morning activity: straightening our ‘nests’, practicing archery, elaborating crafts, checking a book out of the library installed within a gigantic burned out redwood trunk or washing our clothes in large buckets with washboards and Fels Naptha soap bars. After lunch, we had a rest period for reading or writing letters and later could choose a hike or head for a swim in the chilly water of the natural, fern-lined swimming hole fed by a small waterfall. At the Rock Slide, an open hillside covered with a smooth flat layer of rock, we would stargaze and sing at twilight.
Not a day went by without song, while hiking or sitting on logs around the campfire: Negro spirituals, cowboy ditties and American folk songs. “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…,” or “My home’s in Montana….” Snuggled into our sleeping bags in the dark, we’d listen for the mournful notes of taps resounding amongst the redwoods and then waited for the serenade. Hidden from view, our counsellors would sing us into slumber. “Desert silvery blue beneath the pale moonlight..,” or “Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander….”
Aside from my memories of Huckleberry Woods, Big Basin holds particular significance for me because my mother attended camp there in the 1930’s, then known as Camp Chaparral. In the photos camp life seems quite like what I experienced, building character and outdoor skills within the magnificence and wisdom of centuries-old redwoods.
Redwoods are known to be fire-resistant. In any redwood forest it is common to come across blackened, flame-licked trunks of a living tree. I pray that Big Basin’s sequoias sempervirens will abide for another millennia to offer their beauty and wisdom to generations to come.