Blossom Rock was cut down to size a century before I was born. The primeval redwoods that kept ships from splitting their bottoms open on it were cut down around the same time. Today there is a young redwood forest in its place, sprouted from the sea of stumps that the people of that time left behind. The wood built San Francisco and parts of the East Bay, and after the 1906 earthquake, the nascent forest was logged again. Perhaps the house I live in today was built from those trees. Perhaps the glorious San Francisco Victorian I spent a few of my teenage years in was as well. We are surrounded by the remnants of the primeval redwood forest in the older parts of the Bay Area, the parts first stolen and settled by people who looked like me. One old growth tree remains in the East Bay hills. I’ve seen it from the ridge trail, but have not yet found my way to it. Perhaps it is the search that matters, not the finding.
I played hooky yesterday and went up to the Redwood Bowl. I went to see the standing stones, but ended up at the tombstone of the Palo Colorado–the Blossom Rock Navigation Trees. What did the First Peoples call that place? I do not yet know. They are alive and dead, all at the same time. The ghosts of a primordial redwood forest remain in the form of rings of young redwoods a century old. They sprang from the roots of the older trees, so are they still those trees, or their descendants? A truly Druidic puzzle.As I read the interpretive panels and looked at the marker, I felt the sense of loss in the pit of my stomach. Like Glen Canyon. Like the Mother Of The Grove. So many places despoiled and destroyed by people who looked like me. We will never look upon them, never know their true beauty. We will never experience what it was like to stand among those trees, look on that mountain, travel along that river. It’s gone, stolen from all of us long before we were born. Reading this hurts. But it’s the legacy that is left to me and my people. It’s part of what makes me a Druid. It’s my job to hold the memory of my people, good and bad, and the place we live.
It is sad to stand there in this forest with no complexity, but the wilderness here in the heart of the East Bay, accessible to me by bus, is truly a gift. I can see the shadows of what was stolen from all of us in less than twenty years. A forest of stumps just to build San Francisco and some of the East Bay… For all I know, I was living within one of those trees when my parents bought a beautiful Pacific Heights Victorian in my teens. They had had the redwood paneling that graced every room sandblasted before we moved in, and I remember it well. I was very sad to leave. I hope that building lives for even a fraction of the time it took for those trees to grow the first time.
As I stood in those circles, I could see in my mind’s eye a pale outline of those giants. Their shapes are palisaded by the younger trees, and it is strange and somehow wonderful to walk through that space, even as I grieve for the forest that I never had the chance to see, and that will not stand there again for a thousand years, if ever. Yes, it was stolen from all of us, but we stand at a strange and wonderful moment in time. We are called to bear witness, and to learn the ways of connection that will keep humanity from doing such an awful thing ever again. It hurts to have this responsibility, knowing we will never see or connect with the forest that is gone, or the forest that may be, but holding the space for both and seeing the young forest that is here now is like looking through time.
We stand in a strange, beautiful, terrible moment in time. We are at the neck of the hourglass, the moment the chrysalis splits open. What was lost is an open wound in the moment the realization hits. It is the meaning of hiraeth, a Welsh word that means a longing for a place never seen. We who live in this time stand at the gates of the future. All of us, of all races, cultures, life ways, are the ones who will open those gates—or close them forever.
There’s one last thing I found in that grove that needs mentioning. Behind the tombstone is another brass plaque, and a bench. It’s a memorial to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit completely composed of Japanese Americans, many of whose families were behind barbed wire. Destroyed trees, stolen lives. How completely appropriate, and how sad. Someday, I hope there is a memorial to the First Peoples of the East Bay up there as well.