Pillars of Permanence

You don’t have to walk far on the Pine Ridge Trail to stand in a grove of redwoods. A mere quarter mile from the parking lot at Big Sur Station the trail dips down a gulley and the hot California sun is suddenly eclipsed behind the ever stretching arms of trees rising hundreds of feet towards the sky.

The air is cooler down there, and the ground is soft and damp with deep green moss layering on top of the rocks. It’s a stark contrast to the scrubby brush waiting on the other side of the valley, where the scurrying lizards and dusty trail make the setting feel closer to an arid desert than a lush forest.

These trees are old, a fact discerned not just by their enormity, but by the scars of fires from years past that adorn their trunks. They have survived for hundreds of years, braving all the storms and disasters nature can throw at them. And yet they still stand, “ambassadors from another time” as Steinbeck wrote, becoming pillars of permanence in our every shifting world.

The ephemerality of modern life surrounds us. Jobs change regularly, lives are mobile, the only things we seem to be tethered to are electronics. Even relationships tend to come and go, connected only by digital updates. So sleeping amongst the deep roots of an ancient redwood grove forces you to reconcile your temporary presence with the longevity of theirs.

I hadn’t seen my companion for the hike in nearly two years. Separated first by the Atlantic and then by the Rockies, our relationship had been reduced to an annual phone call and scrolling through Instagram feeds. In those two years, our lives had certainly changed a lot. New schools, new jobs, new locations, and new life circumstances – his wife was expecting their first child, due just three weeks later.

The moment we strapped on our backpacks and began our journey, none of that change mattered. The winding trail, the towering trees, the blue skies above us, everything in our surrounding worked to carry the connection we had forged during all our previous adventures across the chasm of change.

And we were not the only ones to experience this connection. While some people retreat to the woods to connect with nature alone, it was clear that the people we encountered on the trail were there to connect with their fellow mankind. Surrounded by the permanence of nature, we met friends celebrating 10 years of memories with riverside yoga sessions, we met couples playfully soaking in hot springs, and we watched as groups of friends laughed while breaking down camp, preparing to move to the next night’s station.

The stability of the redwoods served as the fitting backdrop for these interactions. For a moment we were part of their legacy, part of the history they have watched over so patiently. But in the end, we returned to the parking lot, packed up our cars, and headed our separate ways, he to welcome home a new born daughter, and me to face the changes that come with the end of graduate school. But no matter what changes may come in the future, down in the valleys of the Ventana wilderness, those redwoods will continue to stand.