Barefoot Freedom

Climbing Redwood Trees in Santa Cruz, California

by Amberly Young


The sun has just set and a soft blue glow radiates from the heart of the forest. My feet are bare and I feel the moist earth beneath my soles.

These trees are hundreds of years old, I think to myself as I walk, gazing up into the canopy.

The only noise is the gentle breeze shifting through the branches and the quiet crackle of my footsteps on the dry pine needles.


The redwood forest of Santa Cruz, California surrounds me, and I lose myself in the beauty of the swaying saplings and deep red trunks. I feel an ancient wisdom reverberating around me. I follow the path by the meadow, crossing the field I recognize from full moon drum circles, over the bridge by a trickling creek, winding through trees as wide as trucks and as tall as skyscrapers.

I pass the Wishing Tree, a small oak, where people write their prayers and dreams on slips of paper and tie them to branches in the hopes of being heard.

Finally I reach my destination. In the center of a small clearing she stands, a 150-foot tall douglas fir. We call her Tree 9.  A swing twirls lazily from the lowest branch, along with a rope ladder inviting you to ascent the magnificent giant.


No one else is with me today, although I often take my friends here to show them one of my favourite places on our university campus. We go to school in the middle of a magical redwood forest – the University of California at Santa Cruz. I selected this wonderland as my top choice, turning down the competitive and prestigious UC Los Angeles. I didn’t want to live in a city, surrounded by buildings and traffic.

I’m proud of my decision, I think as I climb up the lower branches. Though I’m alone, I feel safe, I know this route, I’ve done this before. I lose myself in the rhythm, wrapping my arms around branches as big as my waist, always maintaining 3 points of contact, stepping close to the tree where the branches are strongest.

Already I feel a sense of calm, and find myself forgetting to worry. My typical cycle of thoughts shut down as I continue up the tree. She beckons me up, up, up. I feel my heart race as I ascend, my brain warning me that I wouldn’t survive a fall from this height. But I trust my body, and remember to breathe, and I trust this beautiful tree that has stood here, in this spot, since before I was born, since before my great grandmother’s grandmother was born.

Near the top I feel her swaying. She is supportive but not stiff. She weaves with the wind. Her limbs are thinner now, some no thicker than my wrist.

sunset tree

At the very top, there is sort of a seat, a plateau, a place to rest. Now I can relax.

Stretched before me are hundreds of other trees, each a majestic being in itself. Together they are an undulating forest of deep green, clustered in threes, cascading far into the distance. I can just make out the ocean, a dark blue under the softening sky.

Behind the trees, nestled in the forest, there are the classrooms and dormitories and laboratories and libraries and lecture halls of my university, but I can’t see them. Here I can forget everything and just sit in my gratitude for this world I was born into. Here I can meditate and appreciate my being, my freedom to climb, to explore. Here I can relax and ease into myself, part of the forest, silent, smiling, thankful.


About the Author : Nature lover Amberly Young is a traveling writer, photographer, and musician.  After she graduated from university in Santa Cruz, California, she hopped on a plane to New Zealand, stayed there for a year volunteering on farms, and then spent 4 months travelling in Southeast Asia. She is currently living in Melbourne, Australia, finishing up her one-year working holiday visa, before traveling more in Asia.

All text and photos by Amberly Young. This story was also published on WeSaidGoTravel, find it here.

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