My family had two sides, the indoor and the outdoor. When I went on
vacation with the indoor grandparents, we visited people. With my own parents and
the outdoor faction, we visited trees.
The trees we went to see more than any others were the giant redwoods of
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, both within picnic distance of the
San Joaquin Valley farm where my father grew up. Their family recreation had
always been going to the mountains; simple drives, picnics, hiking, camping.
The Sierras were their back yard. When my father had a family of his own, we
followed the same path.
Up we'd drive, watching the altitude signs along a winding road that
passed rocky vistas and high mountain meadows. Eventually we would reach the
trees, always finding a spot beneath their ceiling to have our lunch. We sat in
dappled sunlight, filtered spots bright as coins dotting our clothes and
bodies. The sound at ground level was the noise of skittering creatures. Higher
up, soaring branches tall enough to touch the wind played the forest's unique
music, a source of deep peace.
Over the years our vacations and my father's writing assignments took us
all around California. Trees awaited us at every destination. We came to
know the oaks of the Mother Lode, the Monterey cypress, windbreaks of eucalyptus
on the coastal plain. We were introduced to the bristle cone pine in our
local mountains, date palms and Joshua "trees" in the desert, orchards, timber
stands and cottonwoods turning with the season. Sometimes my father would
despair of his children as we read comic books in the station wagon's back seat
instead of looking out the windows. What he didn't know was that all the
information, all the sights and stories and impressions reached us anyway. We
learned the names of the towns and the rivers and felt ourselves among friends in
We were still quite young when my father tried to tell us, partly in
words, what trees meant to him. It was a December evening, we'd taken our
Christmas tree from the car and it waited on the lawn as my mother readied its spot
in the front window. My father called us to form a circle around the fir as
light from the open front door spilled over us. We joined hands and danced,
actually skipped, around the tree, he singing some version of a Christmas song.
It was unlike anything we'd ever seen him do and we laughed from the surprise
and the joy of it. "I've always thought I was a druid," he said, explaining,
simplifying. "They were people whose religion was about nature. " Then the
dance began again and we declared we were all druids, sisters and brothers of
the forest, children of the trees.