Barefoot Freedom

Climbing Redwood Trees in Santa Cruz, California

by Amberly Young

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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