As a child, I didn’t understand that vacations were not inherently relaxing. That was before I knew of making travel arrangements, booking flights and rental cars, saving money and keeping track of spending. Childhood vacations were whimsical and magical and free of responsibility.
I remember visiting the Pacific Northwest, seeing redwoods for the first time and gaping at their size, at how even after they’d fallen over, their presence pulsed on as nurse trees, giving life to new saplings taking root.
I remember walking along Rialto Beach in Washington State: we went so far down the coast that the tide threatened to keep us trapped atop boulders as it lapped at our running feet.
This is how vacations are supposed to be.
Or at least, this is what I grew up believing.
Our trip to California was our first true vacation as a family, just the three of us, and I think it was magical for Waylon, just as the whole world is magical to a toddler. For my own part, I wobbled between relaxation and stress, if for no other reason that I am an adult who has forgotten to be present always.
Still, some things came back to me.
On El Capitan State Beach, we walked north along the shore until the tide began to roll in and the steep coastline rocks jutted into the water, cutting off our dry escape. In reality, only our ankles were in danger, but that immediate excitement infused me as I ran south to the higher ground, thinking of Rialto Beach.
In Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the trees rose up so high we couldn’t see their crowns, and when I put my palm on a cross-section of a recently fallen redwood, it seemed to smile, by which I mean, the steady presence of ancient trees continue to spread out even after they fall.
As children, we go on vacations without expectations. As adults, we learn to hold our expectations tight, as if we are holding our child’s hand crossing the street and cannot let go.
Eventually, though, we get to the other side. At some point, we have to open up our hands and release whatever it is we hold.
The Redwoods brought me that relief. It’s impossible to be among big trees without opening to amazement. They encircle you, trunks reaching up, canopies opening, roots stretching out beneath your feet. Being so close to ancient life seemed to slow my own life down, making magic visible again.
John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
I’m not sure I can put into words yet what I received, but it wasn’t always what I expected. The trees, though, they taught me again to slow down, to stand in quiet awe, to understand that life is missed if we are not present.