The Enchanted Forest

In fairy tales, the peasant children run hand-in-hand right into the enchanted forest at night, and twenty paces into the thick growth, they’re very afraid. As readers of said fairy tale, we notice that forest-at-night-thing with scarcely a nod and a, “Sure. Sounds scary.’

You have no idea.

A week ago Saturday, I found myself wandering the trails of Armstrong Redwood Forest just outside the resort town of Guerneville. I entered the forest at 3:30 and was assured by the friendly ranger that the hiking trail I selected should take me about 1.5 hours. I’d be back at my car before sunset.

Didn’t quite work out that way.

In my defense, the trails were poorly marked. On the map when two dotted lines intersected each other, I figured there might be a little signage gently suggesting which way to steer. Nope. In reality, three paths converged and all three paths led off in separate directions. I actually whined aloud (to no one nearby), “But the map only shows two dotted lines.”

The map did not reply. I made my best guess and wandered deeper into the forest.

(The only sign I encountered out in the woods suggested that picnic tables were nearby. It was posted 30 feet from actual picnic tables.)

Nevertheless, I walked slowly, savoring every step. I stopped to smell sap dripping down the trees, to rub a little between my fingers and taste it. I practiced walking silently for a couple hundred feet. I sat on a stump, I watched. Stared. Marveled.

I love redwood forests.

A giant misty cloud hung in the middle of a redwood clump. The shapeless fog seemed to be hesitating”…waiting for instructions. Usually fog, well, it moves; it’s on its way somewhere. Not this mist. It just dangled, suspended. Perhaps some primeval, woodland ritual was about to occur.

I smelled the sap on my fingers, snapped a few pictures of enormous trees. Trees that are not nearly as impressive when digital.

I started wondering where I would run if the zombies from 28 Weeks Later appeared over the spiny ridge, sprinting towards me. I hate the new and improved fast-running zombies. They would undoubtedly give chase not caring about getting poked with sticks or worry about tripping over logs. They’re already dead, so who cares about a twisted ankle?

Galloping zombies wouldn’t necessarily stick to the trail. Totally unfair.


While contemplating fast-running zombies, the woods got darker.

I shook off this absurd fantasy by considering how much more likely it would be to be found by a serial killer. After all, this was an out-of-the-way state park. I had only encountered about 3 people on trails in the past hour. Perfect place for a serial killer to find his next victim. He probably already had a shallow grave dug nearby. The fact that nobody knew I was at this particular state park and there was ZERO cell phone service within a 12 mile radius made me an ideal candidate for Victim #14.

Oddly, these ruminations did not help with the zombie fear. Now, mentally I was being chased by the serial killer (who stayed on the trail) and the woods-sprinting zombies (who did not).

Hmmmm. Why was I here?

I love redwood forests. They speak to me in a language I cannot express with words, music, or the dozens of snapped photos. When I’m alone and meditating through a redwood forest, I feel I’m walking through pure energy. I can understand why clouds of mist hang about. Who’d want to leave? The absolute stillness, the vibrating energy…this is a sanctuary, a place of radiating power.

Eckhart Tolle, spiritual guru, advises his listeners to reach inward and feel their “inner body,” the energy that animates our flesh, that powerful inner-self who is pure consciousness. Beyond thought, beyond emotions is a consciousness, the well-spring of all that is. Tolle would suggest that it’s sometimes hard to feel this inner body, given how much we get caught up in our day to day dramas, etc. But that doesn’t make it less real.

When I’m in a redwood forest, I feel like I’m walking through the earth’s ‘inner body,’ that energetic field that is less tangible than the trees, but is everything and everywhere. Breathing the very air seems sacred, more than breathing.

In the late-day gloaming, that power is just as present and perhaps is even more ominous, more strongly felt.

The sun was setting. I couldn’t actually see the sun or its rays from deep in the basin in the forest, but I could see shadows lengthening and a distinct lack of overhead light.

I tried not to panic. I ran into a few humans (non-zombies, non-killers) who steered me back towards the right path but by now light was almost gone.

“Good luck,” they said, turning onto a different path.

I ran.

Night had come.

Running through a forest at night, even on a wide path, is a dicey thing. First off, every tree holds the power to hide some lurking creature. Maybe a bear waking up from an afternoon nap. Or perhaps a mountain lion awaits, still irritated about not finding any lunchy goodness.

And there I was, jogging with my face pointed up, using the vestigial colors in the sky as my flashlight.

Despite my pounding heart, I had to stop for a moment and visit The Colonel.

Armstrong Woods boasts of one of the oldest redwoods in California, Colonel Armstrong, named after a lumberjack who looked at the tree and decided to spare not only that tree, but the entire section of the forest. The Colonel is 1400 years old. Think about that: a 1400 year old LIVING CREATURE.

I came upon The Colonel and knelt on the ground before this massive redwood. If I died this year and was reborn within minutes, it would take 30 consecutive lifetimes before I matched this creature’s age.

What spiritual thoughts coursed through me as I knelt before The Colonel? Listening to my heart pound and then pound harder as a twig snapped behind me, I had to consider, “˜how much do we REALLY know about redwoods?”

What if they’re actually carnivorous?


I mean sure, no one has ever SEEN them consume human flesh. But they’d be too smart to do it when anyone was looking. After 1000 years of photosynthesis, don’t you think a tree would get a little bored with converting sunlight into energy? Might said tree not fantasize about salty, tangy human flesh?

I bet that if redwoods ate humans, it would take dozens of years to fully digest a human body. You’d be locked up vertically inside this living coffin, softwood tendrils and root systems burrowing just under the skin to tap into your veins and arteries, converting blood into usable nutrients.

And you’d scream for a few days, hoping someone would hear you, and even though a Wyoming family on vacation is snapping photos four feet away, nobody could hear you through the three feet of soft wood and bark. You’d live for a few more weeks (maybe even months if the redwoods could somehow pump nutrients into your body) before eventually succumbing.

In the forest at night, the mind does wander.

So, I left the Colonel and his sanguine appetites.

…Zombies with Nikes.

…Dangling clouds of sentient mist.

…Snack-oriented mountain lions.

…Serial killers posing as a helpful pair of German tourists.

…Flesh-devouring redwoods.

…Groggy bears still stretching their limbs, ready for a good warm-up run.

…Sinister, invisible things that only come out at night.

I ran.

Well, actually, I jogged quickly.

I felt that running full speed might convey that I was wildly terrified, and I wouldn’t want any carnivorous 1400 year old creatures to sense my enormous panic, so I allowed myself a cantor usually reserved for trying to catch a bus as it pulls away from the curb. Then I thought about the zombies again and broke into a full run.

I thought about children in fairy tales wandering into the woods and how we in our modern times really don’t have the same fear. Our recent forbears wandered these same woods with no map, no promise that an organic juice bar was just over that peak a mile away”. They made camp and probably did worry about hungry mountain lions, listening to the crackling of branches and praying that they lived to see the morning.

(And I bet they also worried about carnivorous trees, even if they laughed it off in the morning.)

I emerged at the hiking trail head, stopped to breathe and rearrange my clothes. I wanted to get that crazed, harangued look out of my eye before I encountered anyone else headed towards their cars. I didn’t want them to think I was a serial killer out looking for Victim #14.

In the parking lot, I took the photo (below) which reminded me why I’d be back hiking again: the forest truly is an enchanted place.


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