Finding Comfort in the Redwoods
Photos © Paul Cotter Photography
A few months ago, while I was struggling through one of the busiest and most stressful times I've known, I decided I was in serious need of a break. So one beautiful Thursday, I shut down for the day. I hit the "Pause" button on all deadlines, pressures and demands, and I brought my camera to a redwood forest about two hours from our home in California.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve is an 805-acre haven for the ancient redwoods that thrive along the coast from Southern Oregon to Central California. The tallest living things on our planet, these trees can live more than 2,000 years, grow up to 16 feet in diameter and tower over 350 feet tall.
If you want a humbling sense of your place in the universe, stand next to one of these giants and look straight up -- or walk inside the base of a living redwood that was hollowed out by a scorching fire in 1926.
Climbing inside a living tree is memorable. But going deep inside yourself is even more profound.
In the hush of a redwood forest, the total quiet creates a cathedral-like presence that is calming and nurturing for the soul. Very few animals live here, because plants that provide food and shelter for them can't grow in the shade of the giant redwoods.
Shhhhhhhh. Listen: scarcely a bird chirping.
Here in nature's cathedral, you feel a deep sense of awe and you feel the thread that binds you to every branch and leaf. As Shunryu Suzuki said, "When you are you, you see things as they are, and you become one with your surroundings."
Once your mind becomes as silent as the forest itself, you'll find yourself enchanted by the smallest details. You might spend 20 minutes, as I did, gazing at a single tree, admiring the yin-yang interplay of textures and shapes in its ancient bark.
If you look closely, you'll observe more than roots, bark and tree limbs. You'll see the fingerprints of a divine power and you'll see the underlying patterns of the universe at work.
(CLICK ON ANY PHOTO FOR A LARGER VIEW)
As you gaze in wonder at the intricate displays of beauty and elegance, you'll understand what Albert Einstein meant when he said, "Everything you can imagine, nature has already created."
Everywhere you turn, you witness the entire life cycle of birth, growth, decay and death played out before your eyes. Nature reminds us that everything in this world is impermanent -- so it's wise to savor every moment while we can.
After five hours of hiking up and down steep inclines, my toes were bloodied and I felt exhausted. And yet I felt renewed and refreshed. In the words of Lao Tzu, "To return to the root is to find peace. To find peace is to fulfill one's destiny."
I knew that all the obstacles and deadlines I'd left behind would still be waiting for me after I left the forest. But deep down, I felt better prepared to face them and whatever else might lie ahead on life's path.
Want to see more of the Redwoods?
Click on this gallery to see more photos from my day at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve.
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