Humbled by Giants

Last weekend, my grandma and I escaped the fog that had blanketed the Rogue Valley for days, venturing beyond Cave Junction, to where the road winds down the diverse rock formations and forests lining the Smith River. We were headed for the coast that I’d had a long overdue reunion with the weekend prior on a field trip. I’d wanted to go back as soon as I’d left and took the opportunity to do so, while at the same time share many of the things I have learned over the course my time here in Oregon.

Our first stop was a short botanical trail that led to an unadvertised wonder.

darlingtonia
Darlingtonia

The scene on our arrival could not have been more perfect as the sun broke through and illuminated the delicate features of the sprawling cobra lilies occupying the fen. We both stood in awe. This was only my third encounter with the unique plants and my grandma remarked on how she’d never in her life seen anything quite like it. Energized, we continued on toward the sea, where the noble Coast Redwood trees live. I have been infatuated with the giants since I was first humbled by their presence and could hardly contain my excitement.

But this was abruptly stifled as my grandma said that the last time she’d visited a redwood forest, she’d felt that “once you’d seen one, you’d seen them all.” I nearly swerved off the road as I gasped and searched for a way to respond to such a blow. I composed myself as I resolved that no one who had truly encountered the trees could utter such a thing. I knew then that before we could reach the sand I was aching to dig my toes into, we had to spend time in the forest.

herping
an ensatina

I took the split off of the 199 that takes you just barely into California and the Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park. I was headed for the Simpson Reed Trail I’d been on a few months earlier. It was short, but I was hopeful that it would be enough. Within our first few minutes on the trail, I was already babbling away about fire resistance, finding amphibians, and chewing on redwood sorrel. Although my grandma wouldn’t touch the slimy creature I’d discovered, she did humor me and try the tangy sorrel leaves. The tallest of the trees scattered the sunlight in warm rays that lit up ancient looking ferns and soft mosses; it was as though the forest were putting forth its best ‘face’ for my grandma. And in less than a mile’s walk, it worked.

When we got back into the car, she turned to me and said,

“Chelsea, thank you. That was truly magnificent. I was wrong, I understand.”

redwoodsI could have cried. It wasn’t just that she now understood my love for the trees, or even was on her way to developing a love for the forest herself, but the reminder that people don’t need to be convinced of the importance of preserving such natural wonders. More than sharing knowledge and facts, environmental education is about love. Drawn to the enthusiasm you can shamelessly share for what you are passionate about, people’s eyes are more open to see and respect that connection, and they may even begin to develop a passion of their own.

The rest of the day was just as magical. Back across the border into Oregon we spotted a few late southern Gray Whale migrants from Cape Ferrelo and explored the colorful rocky intertidal zone of Harris Beach.

the fluke of a gray whale
the fluke of a gray whale

So absorbed in exploring the coast, I’d forgotten that I’d mentioned earlier on our redwood forest hike that the largest trees in Jedidiah Smith State Park were along Howland Hill Road, which wound from Crescent City to Hiouchi.

As the late afternoon sun sparkled on the ocean’s calm surface and I began to entertain ideas of never leaving, my grandma again took me by surprise.

“Chelsea, do you think we’d have time to go back the long way along that road from Crescent City?”

My heart nearly burst.

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