On Friday I was in the redwood forest with my friends- hiking, building debris shelters, and eating chocolate. After we hiked up into to wooded hills we sat down to the familiar ritual of a round of toasts: “to rain,” “to chocolate,” “to water,” “to redwoods,” “to life!” Sitting in a circle appreciating simple gifts pulled me into the moment, as it often does. The circle broke and we ran off through the trees to tour everyone’s debris shelters. Although we were excited to build them, there was a mutual feeling that we would not want to spend the night in our structures at this point.
It’s a complicated process for the fulfillment of such a basic human need. The location must be slightly higher than the ground in all directions so water won’t pool inside, away from “widow-makers” (hanging dead branches or precarious boulders), and near plenty of material. You always need much more material than you think- a sturdy ridge pole, a pile of strong sticks for the frame, twiggy branches to hold duff in place, and piles and piles of leaves as insulation. When building, you have to make the space small enough that there will be no large pockets of air after you and your bed of leaves are stuffed inside. It’s basically like constructing a sleeping bag out of leaves and sticks. I’ve built and spent the night in a debris shelter like this, and I found it relatively comfortable. I think being able to keep warm and dry in the wilderness is a skill everyone should learn.
In observance of LNT (leave no trace), we all took apart and scattered the remains of our shelters after admiring them, and we returned to the clearing. At lunch we played a joke on our teacher, JT, that brought him to tears from laughing. For the past eight years, every Friday, JT has eaten half a pint of macaroni salad, and some pita chips. I calculated that this makes a total of 15 gallons of macaroni salad so far- that’s three five-gallon buckets. This Friday we all had pita chips and macaroni salad hidden in our bags, and when he took out his lunch we all brought out ours and started opening our bags of chips. There was a collective chip-bag-crinkle from around the circle. When JT looked up to see us all holding the same lunch as him, he burst out laughing.
As macaroni salad was finished and lunch came to a close, we talked about mindfulness and being unplugged in the woods. Someone passed around a bar of chocolate and we all broke off a square and put it in our mouths, trying to make it last as long as possible. I lay back on the prickly redwood needles and relaxed into the ground, and watched the tops of the redwoods towering above me. The trunks rooted to the ground at eye level seemed sturdy and unmoving, their rusty bark a shield against fire and damage, but when I looked up at the tops of the trees I saw that they were tossing and swaying in the wind. I lay there thinking “what a wonderful metaphor right in front of my eyes.”
If you are rooted in the earth you won’t fall when you dance in the sky. Someone mentioned that social media and technology are distracting us and dividing our attention. I don’t agree that it’s that bad for us, but I do think that everyone should have the opportunity to get away from the modern world once in a while and find themselves in the woods. There’s something grounding about being connected with the earth. It feels like such an eternal source of life and energy and peace. Sadly, we are slashing, burning, dumping, and poisoning this beautiful equilibrium. I hope that if more people see how vital the wilderness really is, they will want to protect it.