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Forest Bathing in the Redwoods 

click to enlarge A hunk of redwood amid the sorrel at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Photo by Simona Carini

A hunk of redwood amid the sorrel at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

One of the reasons I treasure spending time in the redwoods is that "in the forest I do not feel small," as I wrote last year in the title of a poem. Rather, I am encouraged to take up space, expand my reach. As I hike on the trail, I explore trees' territory and also my inner space, examining my thoughts, listening for echoes.

On the Sunday after Mother's Day, my friend Lissa and I planned a hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. I hadn't been there for several months and was eager to experience it after the recent rain-rich months. We drove to the park in a heavy drizzle, which stayed with us as we started hiking.

Entering the redwood forest brought a distinct softening of the light, and the canopy broke rain's fall, while amplifying the gentle symphony of water dripping, trickling. In the penumbra, ferns and foliage glittered in an array of vibrant, happy-it-rained-a-lot shades of green.

I realized I had missed the ancient forest, the reassuring stance of the redwoods, the statement they make just by having been in the same spot for centuries, growing, withstanding windstorms, surviving lightning-sparked fire.

There are many options for hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (for suggestions, I usually consult the Redwood Hikes site redwoodhikes.com). As I had envisioned blooming Pacific rhododendrons, the eponymous trail was an obvious choice. We saw none of the puffs of pink petals gracing the green environment of the forest like aerial embroidery. On the other hand, we saw plenty of late blooming western trillium, their bright white flowers lighting up the understory.

The soft ground of the redwood forest is a pleasure for the feet (though care must be taken when stepping on roots or fallen branches as they become slippery when wet).

You may have heard the term "forest bathing," a translation of the Japanese shinrin-yoku, an expression meaning to bathe in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. While movement is not required in forest bathing, that is how I prefer to immerse myself in the forest atmosphere. I may be walking and talking, but my senses are on alert, taking in not just the sights but also the soothing trickling of water, the smell of freshly misted vegetation, which I can almost taste, like recently harvested greens from the farmers market.

One thing I like to touch occasionally is the surface of a redwood branch broken open, as if through my fingertips, I could still sense the tall tree's essence. While I didn't touch anything else, often wet twigs brushed my face, leaving behind their cargo of cool drops, giving me a gentle leaf facial.

On our way back, we walked on the Foothill Trail, which crosses the Big Tree area. I like the colorful signage there: arrows pointing in various directions indicating that, besides the one people come to admire, there are big trees all around. Ancient and patient, they invite us to set aside details like their height in favor of standing in their presence and let their grandeur fill us with contentment.

A hike among old growth redwoods helps us put things and ourselves in perspective, invites us to rediscover the sense of wonder about nature's spectacular ways, tall and small. I plan to go back soon to see rhododendrons and red clintonia in bloom. If I miss them, there will always be shades of vivid green in which to let my senses swim.

An additional reason to visit a state park soon is the second edition of California State Parks Week, June 14-18. There are special events scheduled locally and throughout the state. Check the dedicated website castateparksweek.org or savetheredwoods.org, which lists events in the redwoods.

Simona Carini (she/her) shares photographs of her outdoor explorations (and of food) on Instagram @simonacarini.

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