The Dry River Bed With A Dangerous Secret

The freshest of air, thin in the clean still morning, breathed in and out like an oxygen mask heaven sent. Away, far in the distance, the Sierra, the pinks and yellows, the browns and blacks. Forests as far as the eye can see.
A turquoise, yellow, blue and green lake, the colours of happiness, shines through the tall reeds, pond skaters and dragn flies dressed for pantomime in iridescent bright red, green and blue. Tall spindly remnants of forest, burnt to a cinder, giving life to the new growth below.
A deep gully, a dry river bed with only ankle deep pools left between the rocks. Boulders tumbled, stacked high over each other, in some kind of natural order, smoothed by water and glacial action, all stacked t get in the way of the water. Huge trunks, jagged and smoothed lie across the gully, blockin branches and trunks, twisted and foreed in their way. Where is the water? What massive plug-hole swirl made this devastation, like the aftermath of Gurnica in a ? painting?
Thoughts turn back to the scoured waterfall path on the rock face, the flow here in the winter must be immense. A walk back u to the road speaks the truth, ‘Yosemite Falls River’ speakls the sign. This dry river bed, with its mangled masses of dry wood and sand, feeds the most powerful waterfall of them all. Yosemite Falls.
Standing deep on the river bed, the feeling of fear and awe is all encompassing. Imagination runs riot, ears, sure they can hear the rumble of gushing water, turn to the real sounds of birds and the bees. The idea of being here, just like when the tide goes out on a surf beach, understanding what it might feel like to be deep underwater, a branch tossed like a matchstick down, down, down. Imagine the adventure, through gully and valley, over stone and boulder, down under in the bubbly depths, spiking upwards for oxygen, to be sunk without trace in the next rush. Sweeping past lichen covered rocks with specks of gold, past wooded valleys, rushing along in the ferocious current, bobbing up and down like a cork on the sea. Imagine the ultimate drop, the slowing up when reaching the calm befre the storm, the slow waters of the headwaters of the waterfall. A final gasp, an oxygen fix, a sense of quickening pace, an sense of abandonment, like there is no control, no going back, just destiny. The fal fal falling over the edge, like a bird in flight, soaring down among the bubbles and air pockets, the debris and gold, the silver and rainbow, the soft water, airborne.
The fall, time suspended, graceful and final. The splash, pounding at the bottom, the oxygen pipe gets thinner, smaller, tighter, deep deep down in the dark dark green water, where swirling and spiralling in a vortex. With the flow at its slowest, the passage is hard, but the light of day is beyond. A hundred feet on and there is peace. A floating magical peace. Looking up, the cascade continues, relentless and powerful, a million gallons a second or more.
Back at the top, the rounded pebbles ground to sand make a place for the chipmunks to play and feed. Each one, with cheeks stuffed with seed from the cones, leap form rock t rock, from bush to branch, with one purpose in mind, to store food for the forthcoming winter. Which, just like the floodwaters, wil surely come.
Wind catches the trees, a rustling sound, a birch tree with silvery skin and fluttering leaves. A crested bird with indigo blue sheen, a blue jay, hovers expectantly waiting for the picnic crumbs, sits in the pines. Calling his mate to join him. Hop skip and there he is feasting on sandwich crumbs.
He sees it all, the Blue Jay, the river in flood, the chipmunks playing, the people picnicking. The waterfall, which is, and isn’t, breathes a powerful life into the dead river bed, creating the most enchanting spectacle of all, Yosemite Falls.

Glacier Point – The Setting Sun

Crowds gather, a reverent silence descends. A man with a guitar strums quietly accompanied by his friend on a harmonica. A soulful sound. On top of rocks, couples huddle, lovers close and silent, wrapped up warm, waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime spcatical or even an ‘I DO’.
Posers, who have to be seen to be seen, old people on picnic chairs, travel rugs wrapped around their knees, insulated mugs of coffee in hand, people leaned on fences and the Camera-ati, tripods perched three-leggedly awkward on the uneven surface. Hasseblad, Canon, D40, 5D, 5D Mk2, Nikon, the Hassleblad wins the day – envious noises all round. The Japanese owner tells of his image-capture struggles, dropping in and out how much the camera cost.
Camera-talk, the knowledge imparted, shared. Some show-off American males in theor twilight years, talk of histograms and stopping down. Some talk of Photoshop and stitching in the moon in a Ansel Adams way. Why come then? A postcard would surfice. Some get on with th e job quietly and securely. No matter who, the spectacle is like no other.
The face of the mountain, Half Dome, turns from plasticine grey to blue, to soft yellow, to gold, and then as the sun sinks in the sky to the West, its refelcton says farewell to the day, and its parting gift lights the sideways-turned face orangey-red, so deep , like the inside of a blood orange, that we can only wonder at Nature’s gift. As the orange glow pales, thoughts turn to the West. The crowd makes a collective turn, and far across the low sierra, the horizon turns purple and gold, bruised with purple as though a loaded watercolour brush has been run along a straight edge ruler. Jagged peaks point to the sky and grow dark in the evening glow. Suddenly, an individual thought, as the favoured few depart – to look down. Fear, gasp, step  back hurriedly – a sheer 3,500 ft drop to the valet floor. Courage gathered, a second view explains the fear, far far below in the evewrgreen darkness, the tops of tiny pines, monopoly sized houses with twinkling lights, like stars fallen to the valley bottom, the whire roofs of the RVS parked in a crscent, the silver thread river like a spillof mercury in a science lab. The only sound is waterfalls crashing floorward in cascading torrents, blown leftwards in a gossamer rainbow on the gentle wind.
Step back , vertiginous, thin air at 8,000ft altitude , dizzying. Altitude sickness. Imagine falling down, down down.
Half moon lights up Half Dome like a silver dollar ready to be spent on Nature’s night.

Steve

High up the cliff face, a crescent moon shape incision, a red speck, a climber with his tent, sits aloft, 200 ft from the summit of The Captain. Like a red pimple on the face, the climber is still. What can he see from up there? How amazing must that be! How dangerous. How once-in-a-lifetime-death defying. How incredible.
A crowd gathers, fingers thrust skyward, forearms shield eyes from the sun. A woman walks amongst the crowd, handing out wrist ribbons and asking for donations. For Steve. Who is climbing ‘El Cap’. He has no legs, he has a special harness, he hauls himself up by his arms on a rope pulley system. He has been climbing for six days. He will finish tomorrow. He is exhausted. The climb has been much more arduous than he expected. No shit!
Steve has formed a charitable foundation, for kids with disabilities to do outdoor activities and make their dreams come true. Steve wants to prove to kids that disability is no barrier. That is some way of proving a point!
He has trained for 2 years and has a team of marines with him, and another to carry him down when he has finished. His wife, her worried face full of pride and admiration tells of how he is the nicest man she ever met. Guess he must be.
Humbling human endeavour.
The sun sets on another day on El Capitan. Steve is up there in the moonshine, cold and exhausted and challenged. Bears are out roaming, the river flows silent, the eagles go back to their nests, the night owls awake. The crickets sing and the air goes still, Yosemite Valley is asleep. Steve surely must be awake.

The Captain

Along the valley floor, a two lane road takes traffic driven at city speed. Boulders line the river bed and deep aqua and green pools, glinting in the morning sun, look inviting and calm. Foliage in the trees, lime and sage, forest and basil green. Great branches of trees wedged beneath bridges and across small rapids tell a story different to that in view. For the mighty torrent of the Merced River, in full flow has shaped and sculpted this amazing granite landscape for millennia, A river, its mercury trail spiling over the mountainside must be a sight to behold, for the stains on the cliffs in the dry season, like polished pewter rubbed with a rusted brillo-pad, scoured into the rockface leaving the surface gleaming.
And there it is, out through the trees, out into a bejewelled meadow of green and yellow and vermillion, The Captain standing proud, presiding over his valley full of arborial troops with his military might intact. El Capitan – a cliff of sheer enormity, the face, a putty like texture, like grey plasticine you could poke you finger in, or the smooth flat surface made by a sculptors knife while the clay still wet.
The height, monumental. Scale disrupted, for the human scale is totally inadequate, like we are the mice and he is the man. Colossal, mighty, majestic are not words enough for this body of rock with the name of a man in charge. Alone, a pine tree, growing on a ledge, survives against the all the odds, a little bed for made for only one.
Shadow moves across the smoothed grey face, like a massive sundial dictating the time of day. Tiny trees sprinkle across the top, like tiny sponge trees on a model railway. The great face of time, wise and knowing looks down from its height, time on a different scale, for the suspicion is that we are only here for a mere second in the timescale of The Captain’s sundial.
Lying flat on a beach made by a meander in the river, the hot sun scorches down, staring up to the sky, crowded with rock and granite on a convex projectile, the patch of blue sky miniscule and defined. Gaze round the visual circle, the granite turns from smooth to jagged, to pinnacles pointed like Chinese mountains, piercing the sky like cathedral spires of the Gaudi-esque Spanish kind. Jagged splendour.
This huge sculptor of landscape, the glacier, long retreated, with it majestic power and artistic flair has made this valley creative in design, leaving the maker’s mark embossed in the solid stone. A trade-mark lip atop each and every pinnacle, re-sculpted by the artist’s ancestor, snow, returning year after year for time immemorial. This sculptor, so talented and natural, embosses crescent-shapes and V’s, and signature prints across the wind-protected faces, making the smoothest faces seem flawless and clean. A clever trick of dark and shade, of the dark side of the moon.
Thoughts turn to the meadow, the dry crispy straw-like grass, the yellow bloom, punched with vermillion seed heads and drifts of green. These meadows, once glacial lakes, filled in over time with silt washed down the valleys, first made into marshes then fields, so fertile, that the wild-growth is rampant and cluttered. This autumn plumage spectacular in its livery, changes with the seasons, from bud, to flower, to seedhead to snow-covered dormancy in a full cycle of the almanac of life.
Tourist buses come and go, depositing loud people, with loud clothing and loud voices, with cameras and palm-corders, and everything else in between. Not one moves from the bridge, the main viewing point, no one tries to get a better view, a different angle, a spectacular sensation, just accepting the second-hand view offered through the camera lens. Experience counts for nothing. This five minute wonder is good enough for the ‘Been There, Done That’ brigade, tour chatter and camaraderie are the name of the game, as is ‘Destination One-Upmanship’ – “You been to Deaaaath Valley Yeat?” Booms the patterned shirt, long- shorted baseball capped man “ We went Yesterdaaaay. 140 degrees. Near death experience I tell Ya – You wanna go there!” Why, is the consideration.
But, as in the words of Evelyn Waugh, ‘The Tourist is the other man”, each to his own, we are not to judge or be judged, for ours alone is the experience, it is what we make it, our enjoyment, our pleasure is all ours. Time to stop and stare is rare, we should take the chance while we can.

The way to Yosemite

Sierra Nevada, New Mountains, mounds of yellow hills, growing slowly into foothills, forested edges, bare tops. Windmills adorn the crest of the hills, farming earths natural resources to power Mans’ incessant desire for power.
Mile upon mile of orchard, fruit trees, nut trees, bushes and sprinklers. Each mile, a farm shop selling the bounty of the Sierra plains. Giant peaches, plums, strawberries, sweetcorn and almonds. Mile upon mile of sweet almonds. Flowers in the spring must be a sight to behold. Pistachio trees hang, fecund with pink clusters, cashew nuts in their tell-tale hard shells brown and hard. Massive trucks, and canneries and packing sheds line the flat route, interrupted by the owners’ ranch, fence, verandah, rocking chair, flag an’ all.
San Francisco grew wealthy on the produce form these plains, in fact, the market forces dictate they probably still do.
Past rivers and lakes, over bridges and creeks, the road winds its way through the country. Towns come and go, smaller and smaller, provincial towns supporting communities, all living from the tourist route. Stores selling camp gear, skis and sticks, vie with Starbucks and Maccy D’s.
Winding mountain road, just wide enough for an RV, evening sun casting an alpine glow over mountainsides, highlighting the one and only road ahead like a golden snake climbing higher and higher across the Sierra. Forests, green and dense spread thick across the hillsides like a woven rug. Boulders and morain clutter the hillside, scattered around like the fall-out from a giant pepper-mill.
Suddenly, a brown sign, Yosemite National Park, proclaiming arrival and thrusting visitors into a world of excitement and expectation. The trivia forst, $20 to eneter the park, 5 day pass, keep it on the windscreen. A checkpoint where visitor numbers are counted and control in excercised with military precision. Rangers in hatss, fully uniformed to look sever ofr helpful depending on a point of view. Tickets issued, camping reservations approved, access is swift. A visitor centre with toilets, information and gift shop stand by side by side. The Big Sell of Yosemite starts here. Choose to engage or ignore. Turn a blind eye to the tour buses and expedition tours, make your own way, for that is what surely matters. Packaged Yosemite does not work for some.
Campground busy and crowded. Pitches between the trees, fire pits and benches for family fun, and camp fire stories about bears. Uneven ground dictates a poor night’s sleep and tipped over drinks. Bear lockers are filled, crickets sing, fire crackles and sleep is not far away. Dreams of giant fruit and winding roads, of pistachio nuts and sleeping bears, of the excitement which has only just begun.

Eucalyptus

Shredded papery bark hangs like giant bunting, dripping from the trees, reveals smooth white trunks, oily to touch and smooth like clay. Wind blows high in the branches and the dry rustling sound of the papery leaves clatter together like rubbish swirling on a street corner. Pleasant smells touch the senses, oily and warm, a reminiscence of medicine and massage all in one. Huge stands of Eucalyptus in drifts, standing tall but languid in the early morning heat, with drooping shoulders like there needs to be no effort in movement.
Tracks of a wild-cat creep across the picnic table and clothes spread out to dry overnight, a night-time visitor, a prowler, invisible and silent. A snake wind itself across the dusty path, a beautiful moth, with amber spotted wings in black and gold like a Cherokee Indian headdress settles and basks in the sun.
Eucalyptus covering acres of mountainside, drifting away in a shimmering halo of silver and green as far as the eye can see, dropping down into silvery-grey valleys filled with the scent of clear air.
Childrens’ voices call through the trees, a school party arriving for a camp, bright coloured backs and hats, excited chatter, squeals of excitement, Moms in supporting cars arrive with cool-boxes and BBQs , suncream and a worrying pose. Teachers, well in control, organise games and dictate instruction, warnings about snakes and wild-cats. Kinder-voices squeal in fear and excitement in equal measure. Tents are erected, beds made and the delight of crawling in and out of the new-found home lasts for a long long time.
Distant views of San Francisco shimmer in the heat, water twinkling and moving like liquid tinsel, the sounds of the city far away but audible, a boat horn, a ferry toots, aeroplanes taking pff from Oakland, cars, the ever present rumble of trucks and cars on the Freeway, keeping America on the move. A place so still, yet an awareness of movement is ever present. In the Eucalyptus groves life has a different pace.

Long Drive South

When does something stop being different? Senses atune to the surroundings. When does big start to feel small, when does long distance become ordinary distance? Senses resign themselves to the challenge ahead, it’s just another day, another journey.
San Francisco, 368 miles whispers an almost apologetic sign, that also tells you that Willets is only 68. The sixty eight miles to Willets, Southwards through the American West on Highway 101, is interesting enough, but things begin to look the same. Small towns, in a strip, with Wild-West style facades, a thrift shop, a grocery store, a coffee place, a verandah with drunks and druggies hanging over the rails giving a faded sense, a nod to times gone by.
Same the world over, the druggies and drunks are intertwined with the clean and honest people, faded hippies who came West in the Sixties and never went away – or changed their clothes – or had a shave, for this place with Garberville at its epicentre, is known as the Emerald Triangle, where Cannabis is legal. Or so they say. It is more a case that it is legal to grow Hemp, and the bi-products, and the cops turn a blind-eye to its future use. A website, and text-ring called ‘Busted’ exists, just so warnings of who was busted by which cop can be circulated fast. Good cop, bad cop. They don’t seem to really care. Maybe because they have a greenhouse in the their own backyard, after all shops selling hydroponic equipment are on every street corner and the pungent smell hangs in the air, overpowering the smell of fries and coffee from the drive thru ???.
These dropouts, or maybe drop-ins, seem to have it sussed. No one seems to notice them as they sit under trees, dreadlocks matted and dusty, bags bulging with oddness. A man, with a dog, sat crocheting some multi-coloured wool, two girls with a sign ‘looking for work’ on a bit of card, nose studded and skinny, sit across the parking lot watching and waiting with glazed eyes, for what? A man, in his early seventies, staggers down a dusty track, weaving this way and that, his white vest shouts of his biking past, his lack of teeth and dreadful limp tell of what is now. A sad reflection on what this drug can do to a guy. They might seek peace, they may have found it, but it looks like some kind of struggle all the same.
‘One Log House’ café shouts a sign, or two, or three. A watering hole with a difference. In the same vein as the ‘Drive Thru Tree’, but much smarter and with no JR, with proper postcards, is a huge hollowed out redwood log, made into a house. Key code punched to get in, free with your purchase from the cafe,  donations to charity, it is a mini wonderland of cosy and quaint. Kitchen, fitted with a sink, and shelves with artefacts from a by-gone era, leads through to two tiny bunks, covered in green gingham, pillows and all. Oh so cosy and sleep inducing for the weary traveller. A fifties Bakelite radio, a table lamp, some books and some old photos, leads through to a sitting area with a table and bench, and a door out the other side.
‘Created by an Artist in 1945, it took him and his friends 9 months to hollow out the tree’ and make a travelling house on a trailer – a sort of cylindrical organic caravan. ‘It travelled the Country, visiting County Fairs and Expositions’ it continues. Then a long, and very dull history about restoration and ownership.
Imagination caught, in a Goldilocks kind of way, this place entrances and kindles a feeling of complete security, of playhouse and Granny’s all rolled into one. On further inspection, the One Log House needs some exterior attention. The huge iron rings holding the tree together are rusting and loose, the bark, which is the nature of redwoods, is falling of in long leathery strips and piles of termite dust litter the floor. A faded air, but a national celebrity laid to rest in the county of its birth, can sit calmly and eek out its days making money for charity bringing a sense of nostalgia and charm to the most excited little girls in everyone.
Mile after mile, town after town feels the same. Smarter, and where several big highways converge is Willets, a smarter town. Shopping Malls and Starbucks, copy-shops and nail bars, its history as a staging post reduced to a crossroads with a filling station on each four corners. Much goes on it Willets, or probably much goes through.
Long stretches of road, hills, pasture, meadows, the 101 is a diverse as an eco-system from nature. Huge car sales lots along the highway scream of a country obsessed with travel, ?? a place where, you could swing off the highway, buy a giant RV, go next door and buy an SUV or Saloon to tow behind, go next door and buy a boat to go cruising or fishing, and finally go to the Super Target and kit the whole lot out for $100, fuel it up at Chevron at the end of the road and off you go. No need for a home, Arizona desert in the winter, Californian Coast in the summer, there is a routine, apparently. All following in the footsteps of the Artist and his hollowed out log.
Town after town slip by, shopping mall and commerce strip, fruit trees and vineyards, nut trees and artichokes – in fact – ? A Town that proclaims it’s the ‘Home of the Artichoke’. Have a heart. Fruit growing country, once feeding the Canneries of San Francisco, ready to be shipped to the world. People grow rich on fruit in this part of the world.
Finally, the city lights of San Francisco, the driving pace quickens, city drivers racing and rushing, in the golden twilight of yet another day. Bay waters glisten and sparkle, a breeze lifts the clouds drifting into the darkness. A long bridge, rumbles over a huge expanse of black water, a mist on the surface. City lights twinkle and beckon, but driving through is a must. We will be back. A right turn, through suburbia, Redwood Heights, into the hills above the bay, twisting winding country roads narrow and climbing all the time. Deer darts into the headlights, frogs cross the road. Eucalyptus trees hang their shredded bark into the light-beams like torn skin, the smell pungent and warm.
Far below, the expanse of the city, airplanes landing and taking off, the roar of the engines overhead, the sounds of the city far below. The distant hooting of ferries as they cross the fog-filled bay, intermingled with the sounds of the forest at night. Destination unknown until daylight, the singing of the crickets and oily astringent smell of the eucalyptus soporific and sleep inducing. 386 miles of varied landscape, of insight, of variety, exciting and humdrum, a small slice of how America lives, or in some places, how it is dying on its feet.

Drive Thru’ Tree

 

Where to begin. How to explain.
A mighty Redwood, on the tilt, scrawny branches, nearing the end. Metal cable, guy-roped into great screws in the ground, like Gulliver tied down by the little people, partly hidden amongst the other trees. A hole through the centre, chain-sawed and angular, graffitied and scratched like a tube station wall. Wide enough for a Dodge Truck to pass through. Again and again.
‘Shrine Drive Thu Tree’ shouts the aging yellow signs, again and again. A Drive Thru Tree®. What fun. Images from a childhood picture book come flooding back. 1968, Encyclopeadia, Blue, hard backed. The section on America. A photo, in New York, of a shop that opened during the night – gasp – a 24 hour chemist! Next page, a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Next page, a Redwood Tree so HUGE that you can drive a car through it! The image stuck. 1972, a trip to the New Forest, an arboretum, a Giant Redwood Drive, a plea to see the trees that were so big you could fit a car through it. In that childhood way, knowing no other, it did not disappoint.
Now, standing at the Shrine Drive Thru Tree®, dreams are shattered. The excitement is still there, but the concept so sorely wrong. Just like believing that Gollywogs were Ok, and the ‘Black & White Minstrels’ was just a musical show, that toy rifles were ok for the boys, that it was OK to hunt, the childhood ideal has been shattered.
Of course, this is one of three Drive Thru Trees®, the other Tour Thru Tree® and another Chandler Drive Thru Tree® are less beaten and sad, although fabricated all the same. But still as much fun.
Back to the story. ‘Shrine Drive Thru Tree®’ is a spectacle to behold. First, let me explain, for those travelling in an RV, then the Drive Thru Tree instantly becomes a Walk Thru Tree. However, the spectator sport of watching others squeeze their thirty thousand dollar SUVs through a beat up old tree is strangely gleeful.  Like watching a Formula 1 Grand Prix, the excitement is not so much in the skill and sportsmanship but in the small gruesome anticipation that one might crash. Mayhem. It is the human condition, that we stand and stare, wanting others to make a mistake, slip up so we can say inside ‘what an idiot’.
Shrine Drive Thru Tree® at Myers Flat, is where it all happens. A green, in-need-of-paint door to the entrance shack is pronounced ‘open’. A man, about thirty, unshaven and in a dirty yellow vest, greets. “Howdy ladies, just three dollars for walk-ins”. Questions ensue. Yellow-vest-man, full of a self-importance that only befits the owner of a Drive Thru Tree, introduces himself as JR. Of course.
JR busies himself with a customer, a cheerful black man and his wife, over- excited and anxious about the size of his car. He is making a meal out of this, his $10 will have to be worth it. A long, hyper-discussion ensues, and reassurances are given. JR, from sullen to showman in less than ten seconds. “Here, these are pictures of cars that have got stuck in the Draaave Thru Tree, your car aint nearly as big as that”. The black man, visibly more excited, hangs on his every word. His wife paces the floor with a resigned air. He’s gonna do it whether she likes it or not. “Look these are pictures of other Draaave Thru Trees, this one here at Legget, that is a good one, but the hole is much bigger than mine, mine is a challenge. This one, at Klamath, not so wide but taller”. Pictures are produced, faded printouts from a cheap computer-printer with tell tale lines of running-out cartridges, are glued to some bits of bent corrugated card. We all bend forward to admire the handiwork. We are teasing, JR, unaware, is deadly serious. His ardour gathers “this one here, well it has braches that grow out and twist around and …….”, his arms become like the twisted branches, gesticulating this way and that, drawing circles in the air, and reaching for the sky, emulating his tree.
The time has come. Cameras at the ready. We walk in, take a seat on the fence outside the Draaaave Thru Tree. The man instructs his wife, who does not get to go through the Draaave Thru Tree, where to hold the camera. The giant shiny red car is lined up ready. Slowly, inch by inch, driver enjoying every second, the red car creeps through. The wife’s face is pained. Maybe she can see the visit to the bank for the loan for the shiny red car, or maybe she can see herself outside he car bodyshop next Saturday morning, who knows. It stops. We all hold our breath. Is it stuck? There is silence. “You gonna go baaack?” says the tremulous voice “Well sure can’t go forward” comes the knew -it -all -along’ reply. The car edges back. Stubborn, the driver lines the car up a second time. JR, in his shack, tantalising the next customers with his faded print-outs, is blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding inside his tree.
This time, slowly but surely, the giant red truck nudges through. A collective sigh of relief. We all cheer and clap and whoop – the driver- delighted to have an audience to witness the drive of his life, waves and gives a thumbs-up as he revs past. The door opens, the relieved and sagging wife climbs in. He checks the camera, nods approvingly and drives to the parking lot, for there is yet more to see.
The next car, a blingy man and his blingy wife in an open top cabriolet, ejects the wife to position of cameraman. She shakes her head and focuses the camera, while he drives through with feet to spare, talking under his chin on his cell-phone, palm-corder in one hand and two lap dogs on his lap. Boastfully, he opens the door and bling-wife climbs in, onto the pale beige leather seat. They go round again, hers is the new experience. We cheer and whoop and are met with a look of disdain. How dare we lower the tone of the sanctity of driving through the Draaave Thru Tree!
Next, a people carrier, sliding door opens, an Amish group steps out. Old fashioned floral dresses belted and done up to the neck, white caps around their hair, thick balck tights covering their legs. Men in high-waisted trousers and braces over blue stripy shirts, wide brimmed hats shading their bearded faces. A serious bunch. Incongruous in the Disney-world of JR’s yellow signage and serious marketing ploys.
One earnest lady with a camera, the elder, allowed to be in charge, the other lady, notebook in hand proceeds to take notes. The men, hands thrust in pockets, walk round and round the tree, sizing it up, chatting and gesticulating. The man in black, the elder, drives slowly but surely through the tree. Edging his way through. A single click of the camera. A moment in time captured. The ladies seem concerned we are watching, this is a serious act, no whooping and cheering and thumbs-up here. The ritual done, they pile back in, no excited chatter, more of a sense of acceptance that it is OK to drive through a Draave Thru Tree.
The excitement wanes. The afternoon draws on. A look around the site reveals the ‘Famous Drive-On Log’, a smaller ‘Walk Thru Tree’ for children, a freaky fairytale house made from a tree stump, and a ‘Walk Thru Time’ log, with dates that preceeds the American Union by a thousand years, so much so, they have to use their scant knowledge of world affairs to signify the passage of time. Even the Pilgrim Fathers are on the outer ring.
By now, shiny-red-truck man is engaged in excited conversation with JR, telling of his narrow escape and how he nearly got stuck. I suspect JR has heard it all before, but the consummate showman that he is, he ohhs and ahhs in all the right places. The man wants to know the record, how many times has one person been through? What happens if someone gets stuck? His fascination is endless. The wife, having been round the gift shop, twice, clutching a paper bag containing a porcelain Drive Thru Tree, stands wearily by his side. JR knows no limit, the excited chatter gains momentum. “My Aaaaant bought this place in ’63, year before the Flood. Did it up and made the Draaave Thru Tree. My parents bought it off her but she still ran it, but then she got too old, so I help out here now. It was her who invented the “Draaave on Log’ , needs a bit of attention now, crumbling a bit. In fact, I really need to get out there and get some more attractions going, after all that tree aint gonna last for ever”. I should say so.
‘I need to get out there with the chain-saw and clean up the inside, get rid of the graffiti and ‘all”. “Wont that make the hole bigger?” asks red-truck-man, seemingly miffed that he might not have got stuck and saved his pride if there was an extra inch. “Yeah, gu-eees sooo” says JR, “What’s an inch after a thousand years?” “ So, is that how you would get someone who was stuck, out?” asks red-truck-man, wife wincing. ‘Yeah, that or dismantle the wing-mirrors from inside. Trouble is these days, they’s all-electric, needs to cut the wires and stuff”. Wife winces again. We suggest an RV Drive Thru Tree, and JR agrees. We suggest a lot of ideas, and JR leans for his grubby pad as if to start to scrawl. We cannot believe it. “You girls are so much fun” he drawls, “You can come back tomorrow for freeeee”. “Hail JR, the offer is genuine, like a gift you can not refuse in case of offence. He believes in his tree, why shouldn’t we.
Exhausted from the day, expecting that JR will never get out from his shack to attend to the graffiti, with his cardboard-mounted pictures and girly-calendar, threadbare typist chair with a broken wheel propped up by a wedge of redwood, his grubby mug with the snooker-ball 76 fuel logo and his rubbed off map, we move on. Back in the RV we look at each other, speechless. What was that all about? We dissolve into sheer hysteria, somehow the excitement of the Draaave Thru Tree too much to contain. We decide we love JR. A man who loves that tree so much deserves respect.
Next day, we drive past the Draaave Thru Tree, “ You know you have a Draave Thru Tree in Your Backyard JR? “ we holler from the cab. “Sure do” cries JR, wearing same yellow vest, leaning over the green in-need-of-paint-door. We wonder if he sleeps in there. Each time for three days, as we traverse up and down the Avenue of the Giants in our Tioga RV, we unwind the windows and scream out the same ‘Sure Do!’ always comes the reply.

Forest Hike

Mossy smells invade the senses, decay of rotting wood and fungi provide the fuel to create the smell of the forest, the scent of somewhere new. For this forest is different to the Humboldt Redwoods, this forest, high in the Del Norte hills above the Klamath River is more lush, more verdant, more damp. The tinder dry of the Eel River Redwoods, baked in the hot Californian sun, gives way to the more temperate climate of Northern California, making a same-same-but-different world for the tree-lovers to explore.
High in the tallest trees on Earth, wind rustles the tops unbeknown to the viewer below, showering tiny fragments of bark and leaf to the floor hundreds of feet below, providing an ever growing carpet of organic matter to feed and sustain. A kind of organic snow, fluttering down and carpeting the world is a silent hush.
Moisture hangs high in the trees tops, catching misted droplets on the wind in the stubby branches, each tiny leaf drawing up to feed the huge trunks below. Huge thirsty trunks, like Giants’ drinking straws, sucking moisture from earth and sky. Gallons of water a day creeping up their capillary veins, pressurised by gravity, pumping up the centre, travelling ever skyward.
The shallow roots, bare for all to see above the surface, like lace coasters placed under the tree to stop it staining the forest floor, weak and unstable alone; But there is strength in numbers. Each lacy mat interweaved like a spider’s web with its closest neighbour’s, again and again in a repeated pattern across the forest floor, interlocking like spores of fungi just below the surface. No one deep tap-root to keep them up, just the lacy mat woven intricately across the landscape. Uproot one, and the rest come tumbling down. One weakens the next, they fall like dominoes, like a giant game of skittles taking each other out. A lesson learnt; A team is only as good as its weakest member. It’s the law of the jungle.
Gossamer threads of web float gently between the trees, mile upon mile of silver crochet looped between the trees. Deep into the forest, climb after climb, up mountainside and creek, a silence falls. Peace on Earth. No roads, no phones, no planes, no voices – just the sound of human breathing. Sit silent in contemplation, in awe. Craned neck, wide eyes, listening ears. Suddenly, as if tuning in and out on a fuzzy Nature FM, the sounds of the forest takes over the senses. Birdsong, shrill and sweet, chattering squirrels, the buzz of a bee. Cracking twigs fall as flotsam from the mighty branches, a howl, a squeak, a sigh. Tinkling water in a stream deep below in the valley bottom, Man can feel alive here, breathing pure, intoxicating, sleep inducing oxygen, delivered fresh to your nose by the trees. Closed eyes make the sound more acute, warm sunshine falls on the face thrust upwards to allow the senses to open wide. Smell – perfume, touch – rough and smooth, sight – astounding, sound – like music, all working on overdrive. Taste, what does this place taste like? Air is sweet, like violets and citronella rolled into one, with a hint of tabacco with a mushroom undertone. Sweet, like nature’s wine, fermented and blended to its finest mix.
Climb higher and higher in the green cathedral, pass through trunks split in two, pass underneath roots, pass new saplings on old growth, pass ferns and lichen, pass the tickling branches that ought to be scratchy but are in fact soft and brushy with a lemony tang.
Sideways Tree that had slipped down the hill, in amongst the ferns, a peculiar angle cutting through the vertical. A horizontal accident in a vertical world, creates a pathway across the ferns, a forest motorway for insect and beast.
Burnt Tree looking like brown wrapping paper singed on a Christmas fire, papery bark brown and shredded, charcoaly and sooty. Life giving fire, germinates seeds, cleanses the forest, put everything back to square one and gives everything a fighting chance. Three massively proud trees, so straight, so big, so tall, like three brothers, strong and silent, protectors of the family. Nothing in the world could separate them, save a collective disaster. Colluding trees, whispering trees that gang-up together and create an army, trees that stand alone like sentinels at a palace gate, strong and silent, keeping the Queen’s business to themselves. Mischievous Trees, children of the forest, that plot and plan an escape that will never happen. Teenage Trees that stand and sulk, not caring whether you speak or not, all wearing the hoody-uniform of the forest. Efficient Trees, who go about their forest business with no waste of energy, tall, straight, narrow, branches where they should be, everything in its place. Boss Trees, a natural authority, Timid Trees, servile and productive, the Joker Tree, bucking the trend and growing at all angles desperately wanting to be noticed. Trees, that in their arborial city, have got the balance just right. No racing to be best, juts giving way to the natural order of things, just being, an acceptance that this is the way of the world.
How much we would love to be a bird soaring amongst the canopy and the big fat trunks, looking down on ferns, like exploding green fireworks below, over branches that create a horizontal matrix, touching fingers, reaching out. Soaring in and out the airborne mist, watching and waiting.
Still, warm, cosy, comfortable, like a scented bath, the forest embraces. Just five more minutes, or even ten? Real life suspended in a moment of deep pleasure, surely nothing can be better than this? Maybe this IS real life? What the world is meant to be. Maybe we have got it all wrong. Some sit at the Antarctic, gazing on white-wilderness imagining the same, some sit atop Everest, the world at their feet. Some sail the Seven Seas, some marvel at the ocean-deep, some sit at a desert oasis and know the peace. Some climb the towers of Cathedrals, and look out from the Empire State Building across the man-made wonder that is New York, but if comparison is the name of the game, then this compares on an even scale. The Mighty Redwoods of Northern California, unique, breathing, living Giants, whose majesty is a world-equal.

RV George

Fog kisses the tree tops like fairy dust, drifting in and out like strands of cotton wool. Stiff breezes across the river-lake create ripples on the surface, making it hard for the men-with-trailers to launch their boats. That’s why they come here, to launch their boats, to stand and chat about fish and engines, and pass the time of day. George, who self-admittedly does not own the campground, but who rules the roost from the elevated position of his small-wheeled small-engined golf buggy, is on-hand to assist with every launch. Except he doesn’t – assist – that is. He just stands and talks and waves his arms, in his acrylic patterned jumper and wife-washed whitest-of-white cotton sports socks inside his nike-est of white labelled trainers. George, who takes the money, fills out registration receipts, escorts in his buggy to the camping pitch, talks whilst setting up and sneaks up behind for maximum effect.
George, whose wi-fi internet is treated like liquid gold – $2 – a night for the dubious benefit of drop out and poor signal. George, whose German cross Argentinian roots give him the skin of an Italian and the flirting-flair of a Latino. George, diminutive in stature, smaller whilst seated in the buggy, is King of all he surveys. Laundry is $2 a load,” here let me gif you your change in quarters”, just in case you need a wash I suspect. And a dry is $2 in case of rain.
“ Can we have a fire-ring for a camp fire please George?” we plead.
“You can use that big one ofa there” the Germanic reply “ Ve haf logs for $8 a bundle. 4 in a bundle”.
“Hey, George, that’s $2 a log!”, the amused reply. The unamused German- was not.
“My father, he go to Argentina after the virst war, to make his way. In those days you went to America or Argentina to get rich. He came back after 3 years and married my mother who vanted to go there.” Offered the stranger. We do not know why. Maybe we were meant to understand the struggle. We suspect that $2 was hard to find after the virst war.
George, who raises the flag of the Union alongside the flag of the California Republic each day, whilst sat in his golf buggy, George who, outside his immaculate RV, with turquoise livery and matching awning, has a similar buggy for Mrs George, who speaks no English, most likely Italian, in to her cell phone at all times of day, unless she is washing George’s whites and polishing the van.
George, whose sprinklers sprinkle his European garden alongside the shower block, George whose watchful eye knows every movement of everyone at every time of the day. George, who, apparently lives south of LA in the Vinter, comes here to Klamath River, every summer to be amongst friends. “It is like a small village here, Ve are all friends. I help them with their boats and land their fish, they are my friends”.
“ Was it you who haf the campfire in the pit last night? I was pleased for you, you haf logs?” “Yes George, free from the forest floor”. “ You carry them here?” “Yes George in our RV”  “ You make a fire easy?” “Yes George, we have fires at home, we can make a fire from nothing” ‘How you girls do that?” “ Easy George, dry match, dry paper, dry wood and ‘hey’ flames!!”.  All free. “You are cleffer girls”.
George, whose life is contained in 86 RV spaces, with electric hook-up and city water, in people’s boats and trailers, and a macho-world into which he doesn’t quite fit. George who wants to be like them, but whose white socks just do not allow, they must not get grey, or acrylic patterned jumper smell of fish, or legs walk more than two yards from the buggy, only lives vicariously through the macho-lives of others.
George, who asked for the password to the wi-fi back on departure, lest you sit on the roadside above the camp and steal his liquid gold.