As you can imagine, I have much to share. Too much for just one blog post. But the temptation to spill it all out is there. Oh, the pains of restraint! I am grateful for your patience, awaiting this first dispatch from Yachats. It will eventually be rewarded in big ways.
My view is the sea. Through a wall of glass I gaze at a Pacific that is anything but peaceful. While the waves aren’t huge, they are relentless. And in a hurry. A half-dozen are breaking at any given time, under a sky of dense, gray clouds. The foam rushes the shore. Eventually, the breaking waves will cover up the sand, crashing instead on the rocks that create the only barrier between me and it.
I feel like I am on the edge of the world.
That feeling began the moment Mr. Jackpot came to pick me up on Sunday. He had slept at work, burning the midnight oil in an effort to be able to depart with a clear head. Mission unsuccessful. You know how most people are somewhere on the giddy spectrum the day they are leaving on holiday? Mr. Jackpot was on another spectrum. The one where coming down from work is like descending the face of a skyscraper in high heels. He was fairly clenched. It was going to take a while for him to unwind, of that I was certain.
We started up the 101. In silence. As the miles passed, the trees changed. The hills weren’t speckled with Oaks, but blanketed in a coastal rain forest. I swear I would not have blinked twice if I saw a fairy run across the road. Or Sasquatch. Especially when we were deep inside a grove of redwoods on a stretch of old highway 101 known as the Avenue of the Giants. I have never felt so small. Mammoth sentries lined the winding road, blocking out most of the sun light. I felt like I was being watched the entire time. Not by Mr. Jackpot. By the trees. Their massive trunks capped with a humble spray of relatively stubby limbs cloaked in green wisps of needles, as if they put all their energy into their foundation alone.
I remembered the solar eclipse.
There’s a solar eclipse at some point today, I said as looked at my phone, not expecting much of a signal. Expectation met. I looked it up on Mr. Jackpot’s iPad. Yep. Solar eclipse that evening. It had already been setting twitter on fire in other parts of the world. Apparently it was a spectacular sight. But it was to be no more spectacular than in one particular place, according to the article I was reading: the area comprised of southern Oregon and northern California. That realization started to light the fires of adventure in us both. We may witness a celestial event in one of the most gorgeous places on the blue marble, which also happened to be the perfect place from which to view it.
Timing and location were going to be key, but we had another, more pressing goal. To find a Madrone tree that Mr. Jackpot first discovered in 1997 and had not returned to since. As if that’s possible.
We made a left off the 101 into a state park and were greeted by a herd of Roosevelt Elk grazing in a meadow. By this point I had quietly gasped so many times it became my method of breathing. We began a dirt road climb that ended a half-mile later at a locked gate.
Wanna go for a walk and see if we can find it? I went up on my mountain bike in ’97, but I’m guessing it’s not more than a 4 mile hike in. Game?
I hadn’t expected a hike and was craving it. It had been a few days since I was out on the planet on foot, soaking in nature. I changed out of my flip flops into hiking boots and grabbed my water bottle.
We set out, with me not paying attention to the fact that I was swinging a couple ounces of water and Mr. Jackpot carrying a 25 pound pack. It wasn’t too hot out and we had guzzled quite a bit of water on the way here. We’ll be fine, I thought. We began our ascent flanked by groves of redwoods that soared to the sky. It became a game to peer through the massive trunks to find the really, really big grand daddies that failed to hide deep in the grove, set back off the fire road, surrounded by descendants. Slowly the redwoods began to share the earth with stunning Douglas Fir trees that thrived in their environment.
We stopped to watch a snake eat a newt. Kind of unsettling, a little eerie, but also kind of magical.
This was turning in to quite a climb as the road continued to tilt. My legs enjoyed the burn from the elevation gain. At one point Mr. Jackpot commented that I ought to be wearing the pack and consider this a good training hike for my climb of Mt. Whitney. We stopped to trade off and had some water, remarking for the first time about the short supply. A park ranger came by in his pickup.
You heading up for the solstice?
Neither of us corrected him. Yep. How much further up?
Well, it’s about another mile or so to the ridge and then another half mile down to…
That part didn’t matter. The tree we were seeking was on the ridge. If we saw the eclipse, great. But we were here to see the tree. Mr. Jackpot was deeply engaged with his GPS trying to zero in on where it might be.
What are you looking at?
A GPS tracking device.
Planning on where to dump the body?
I wouldn’t have driven this far. Besides, I have three tracking devices on us and you have your iPhone. I’d plan way better than that. Maybe if your SIM card stops working you can start getting nervous.
We came to an intersection of the fire road and a grassy trail which snaked off to the right, widening into a road that nestled just below the ridge. Off we went in search of the largest Madrone tree Mr. Jackpot has ever seen. And we went. And went. And went. At the bottom of yet another climb I was ready to throw in the towel. I had about an ounce of water left and it was nearing six o’clock. The descent is not always faster on rocky fire roads, especially in the darkened understory of a coastal rain forest.
Besides, we turn into prey at sundown. And I was already parched.
Let’s get to the top of this climb and see where we are, but we really should head back down soon.
At the crest of the hill, visible just beyond a slight bend in the trail, was a tree unlike any of those surrounding it. Unlike any I had ever seen. It looked like the body of a sea creature whose head was plunged into the earth during a tsunami 500 years ago. It could never extricate itself, but still managed to live on. Parts of its limbs were smooth, and rippled like the muscled hind legs of a chestnut-colored thoroughbred horse. Some parts were peeling. And others fully clothed in dark bark, rumpled like a trusty and fraying cardigan.
It begged to be climbed. Sitting up on its first branch, a twisting mass that was at least equivalent to eight of me, stacked prone, one on top of the other, I marveled at the strength of this tree. How the very limb upon which I reclined did not crash to the ground under its own weight was a mystery for those with much more talented brains than mine to unravel. I was simply in awe.
Thoughts of anything other than the majesty of this hauntingly beautiful tree, and I do not use that phrase lightly, fell away for us both. It was at that moment that we realized the light was changing. It had a different character to it. Not quite milky, not translucent, just a little pale, a little flat. It penetrated the canopy urging us to depart for the meadow to see what we could of the eclipse.
When we emerged from the woods we took off our sunglasses and held them at 90 degrees, one behind the other, to safely glimpse the eclipse. At first we couldn’t tell if it was just beginning or nearing its end. The woods surrounding our meadow buzzed with the sounds of birds, crickets, and little ground-dwellers scurrying about. Mosquitoes ran laps around my head.
Mr. Jackpot got the angle just right on our viewing contraption and watched the moon slide into place directly in front of the sun. He handed me the glasses. As I fumbled with getting the angle right the forest silenced itself. Nothing moved. Nothing spoke. We all just breathed as the Sun, the Moon and the Earth lined up. It’s safe to say that when the perfect alignment was reached a shot of celestial energy pegged us all right between the eyes.
I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture of a remarkable moment in time. I felt cradled by the Universe. We embarked on a silly mission to find a tree and found ourselves in the most perfect place at the most perfect time to witness perfect alignment.
A few sun salutations later we were on our way down the mountain. Our 8 mile round trip hike was more like 13 plus. We gained over 2000 feet in elevation. We had four ounces of water and no food. We witnessed a magical celestial event and laid our bodies along the 500 year old limbs of a remarkable tree hidden in a forest of giants.
When we got to the car I pulled out my phone to tweet to you the picture of the eclipse.
It was then that I realized my phone wasn’t working. The last text I received was when I climbed the Madrone. I squinted at the words which appeared on the upper left corner – where my signal bars used to be.
What was it Mr. Jackpot said about tracking devices and SIM cards? Maybe I should take a peek in the back of his truck when he isn’t looking…