Sunday, October 12, 2008

How I Go To Be A Neo-Pagan Witch--Part 2, Early On, The Coastal Redwoods

[a revenant post]

Part 2--Early On, The Coastal Redwoods

My father liked to troll for salmon from a small power boat. That's why I spent a lot of summer vacations camping on the Mendocino Coast of California and met the Coastal Redwoods. As well as a lot of other things, living and historical, that goes along with Coastal Redwoods. Lumbering, for one.

For the most part, my family camped at Van Damme State Park. It's a good-sized, popular park just South of the town of Mendocino. Most of the park runs Eastward up the Little River valley to Fern Canyon, with campgrounds here and there off the park road. Across California Highway 1, the Little River pools and drains into the Pacific across a nice sandy beach.

The Mendocino Coast is renowned for its rough, spectacular coastline and ancient beach terraces rising into the forested mountains. Among its other attractions, a forest of pygmy Coastal Redwoods grows on one ridge there, naturally bonsai-ed trees no more than 6 feet tall.

When I was visiting as a kid, the region was changing away from a remnant lumbering economy toward a tourist/recreation economy. Then, Caspar, CA, was still a company town with a company store, and Fort Bragg, CA, supported a sawmill. The Redwood forest was littered with the industrial trash of about a century of timber felling and extraction. And the stumps of the first growth forest that the lumbermen took. The Redwood forests we camped in and hiked through were almost all forests of large trees that had regrown.

A Coastal Redwood forest, even a well-established second growth forest, pretty much takes your breath away. Coastal Redwood trees are tall, ranging up to 380 odd feet. And they big around,12 foot diameters not unusual, 15 to 18 foot diameters not unknown.The first set of big branches grows from the main trunk high up from the ground, so that the trunks look like columns. They grow for a long time, and some individual trees are older than 2000 years. They have rough, shaggy, thick bark colored from a sort of cinnamon red to dark grey-brown. Often, the bark is charred in patches from ground level to some distance up.

Coastal Redwoods grow in places where its foggy and moist. When the sunlight comes through the branches, dust, pollen and such help define the shafts of light. Coastal Redwoods grow in groves. Because of their habits of growth, Coastal Redwood groves may take a ring form, or a line form, or a series of either form. The individual trees may not appear to stand haphazard, as other kinds of trees in other forests might.

In addition, thanks to their fire resistant character, Coastal Redwood may acquire some interesting and unusual characteristics.

Take goose pen trees, for instance. Circumstances around one tree may allow a fire to hollow out a chamber into the base of the trunk, sometimes several feet in. Later, erosion may lower the ground level in this chamber a few feet below the surrounding forest floor. What results is a stepped down chamber with charred walls within a large living tree, suitable, among other things, for holding a small flock of domestic geese--hence goose pen tree.

About that industrial trash littering the forest.

Coastal Redwoods are big trees, cumbersome to fell by human-powered means and difficult to move without big machines. Back in the day, when lumberjacks used large man-powered saws to cut Coastal Redwoods, the logs were typically skidded to a stream or river and floated down to a sawmill on the coast. A few operations built narrow guage railroads.

Coastal Redwoods are exceptionally dense nearby the ground, and the section of the trunk from ground level to maybe 12-18 feet, depending on the individual tree, generally does not float. So the back in the day practice was to cut the trunk up high, above this dense section.

Leaving big stumps.

A common way to move logs involved the use of a static steam-powered donkey engine and a system of steel winches and steel cables an inch or so in diameter. Big redwood logs got tethered up and hauled to the waterways, then floated away to the saw mills.

That was the industrial trash that I found all over the Coastal Redwood forest when I was a kid. Pieces of donkey engines, reels and tangles of large steel cable, large winch wheels, twisted railroad tracks. All of it rusty and wrecked and just plain dumped when the logs ran out.

Big beautiful second growth trees. The remnants of first growth trees. Rusty industrial trash.

Now, over to the Navarro River valley.

Van Damme State Park was a popular campground, and sometimes all the available sites there would turn out to be full. When that happened, my family would go to Paul M. Dimmick (now Navarro River Redwoods) State Park, camp there for a day or two, then take an open site at Van Damme park.

The Dimmick campground was close by the Navarro River, actually within a stand of second growth Coastal Redwoods, beneath which also stood a bunch of stumps left when the first growth trees had been logged out.

Big stumps. 10 to 15 feet high, 10 to 12 feet across. Solid at the outer shell, but slowly rotting and disintegrating inside. The solid outer shells formed walls a foot or two high around the the inner areas.

Just splendid forts.

All the kids played in these stumps, and had for years, and continued to for years, until the park authorities removed them, maybe for safety/liability reasons. I enjoyed climbing up into the stump, being on and a little within the stump, feeling a little like I was sinking into the stump. Because the inner wood was soft and spongy and gave underfoot.

Plus, Dimmick park had several really nice goose pen trees that I as a kid could climb down into. Standing inside a big living tree was a true marvel, and a bit scary.

All in all, though, Coastal Redwoods thrilled me. I could feel their living presence, and, in a sense, I could hear them talking to me.

Let me make an important point about these essays here.

I'm talking about--and will be talking about--my childhood and early adult years from the outlook an experienced practitioner. I'm describing a lot of things that happened using notions and terminology that I knew nothing about when they happened to me as a kid or young adult. I'm not trying to recreate the look and feel of a kid's experiences and world. I'm trying to offer an account of events and intimations that led a kid into the realm of Neo-Pagan Craft.

I did not then and do not now consider myself any sort of a psychically sensitive or magically gifted child. To the contrary, I was pretty much down to earth and commonsensical about things.

I did not aspire to conversations with trees, spirits, the dear or untrustworthy departed, elves, sprites, faeries, ufo pilots, or the sacred spirits of animal totems. I was, in total, unmagical in activity or enterprise. I liked that things made sense. I liked that there was a more or less logical, scientific, or, maybe, grammatical order to the world and me in it. I liked less that there were illogical, unscientific, and ungrammatical qualities within and, perhaps, around, this order.

I didn't, in any sense, want to become a witch or a wizard. I didn't look to the occult for anything. I was not religious or prayerful or any sort of believer. I did not go to any church, nor did I want to. Christianity didn't hold any attraction for me, and, at best, I was only dimly aware that other religions even existed.

So in saying that, as a kid, standing in the decaying stump of a logged out first growth Coastal Redwood tree, I could hear the trees talking to me, I don't mean that I heard words spoken by the ancient and mystical spirit of the trees. But I did understand that I made a contact and connection with the Coastal Redwoods, and they, with me, in part because I played in those stumps and in part because I, vaguely, did not like what lumbering had done to the once pristine Coastal Redwood forest.

Coda--In the Navarro valley, upriver some of Dimmick park, I first encountered a raven. The North Coast counties, Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, are sheep herding counties. The raven I encountered was standing on the ground in a little meadow, plucking the eye out of the head of a dead sheep, eating the eyeball.

Later, it became clear to me that both of these experiences, as well as my earlier encounter with the Bobcat, impressed me powerfully with both the living spirits of these living beings (and their species) and with some specific sorts of recollections and awareness. All of these are for me, in Neo-Pagan Craft parlance, totems.

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