18 July 1999

the rope swing

At evening, as fog pushes up from the river, this clearing is a cathedral at the wall of heaven. Its silence is stronger than the drone of bees and mosquitoes; an inaudible breeze is barely felt as it sways single stalks of dry grass. The redwoods rise up before me from the steep valley wall beyond my view as if from the air. They range from mottled gray in the light to black within their own shade, creating chiaroscuro contrasts with the luminous white evening sky.

The redwoods in this cool silence seem unconcerned with the massacre that took place here a century ago; they tower over this ground as though none had grown and fallen here before them. But the remains of the ancient forrest are everywhere around me, the charred hollowed stumps of millennia-old redwoods that came down to make way for cattle and sheep, and enter their afterlives as factories, stores, concert halls, Victorian mansions.

It's hard to imagine such carnage after so many thousands of years of this fog-bound silence. But this spot has endured worse upheaval. For instance, it used to be the beach, a few hundred feet below and three miles to the west.

The redwoods are coming back. They're well on their way to becoming thousand-year-old trees, proportionally as far toward that goal as I am toward mine. Time is on both our sides: each year brings another ring, each day another post. Dry winters might bring a pathetic thin little ring--but it counts.

When I was a child there was a rope swing at this spot. This was no cathedral then; it was an amusement park, where I screwed around with the boys up the road when my sister was not here to distract them. The property owner cut the rope swing, fearing litigation. Now there's no trace of it, and it's hard to see where it might have swung since an impassable mesh of thick branches has grown since then. It was a good rope swing--the ridge drops off quickly enough that you flew at a frightening height at your farthest out.

The sky is still white, but one by one the trees are falling into silhouette. The sky, this wall of sky that comes down behind the farthest visible redwoods just thirty feet away, is dimming, fading slightly, but it has absorbed the light of day and like a great sponge will yield it little by little all through the moonless night. Days on end of fog-lit skies are depressing as Norwegian winters; but they bring such evenings and dawns that seem a balm on ancient wounds.