“Officer, where can we see the best redwoods?” The State Parks Ranger and I had a half-mile to walk together from Point Cabrillo Light Station back to the parking lot, so I thought I wouldn’t waste his expertise.
“Around here? No Contest. Hendy Woods.”
“Sounds like a blues band.”
“In a way. But it’s the best kept secret on this section of the North Coast. One hundred acres of original-growth Coast Redwoods hiding right off the highway.”
“No. California 128. Do you know it?”
I told him we did. Nancy and I had driven to the coast through this marvelous canyon, climbing up the Coast Range from Cloverdale, easing down past Anderson Valley’s vineyards and apple orchards, and emerging onto the Pacific shore at the mouth of the Navarro River.
“Reverse your tracks,” the Ranger instructed. “Head inland and look sharp eight miles above Booneville, or you’ll miss the turnoff. That’s why I like it. No one stops. I have the place almost all to myself. That’s where I’m based.”
The next morning Nancy and I stocked up with picnic fixings in Mendocino and headed for the Park. We read up on local history in the meantime and were charmed by this conservation story.
Joshua Hendy had arrived in the Anderson Valley from England in 1849. Immune to Gold Fever but savvy to its supply opportunities, he first launched a chain of sawmills and then an iron works manufacturing mining equipment. Determined to spare some of the finest specimen Coast Redwoods from rampant clear-cutting, he bought, preserved and bequeathed two adjacent groves. The Save the Redwoods League kept the faith by acquiring these linked parcels in 1950, deeding them to the State Park System in 1970.
Nancy and I were elated we were able to visit during the first week of January. We shared the picnic ground with two other couples but then had the 80-acre Big Hendy Grove to ourselves.
We wandered on three looped trails for almost two miles. Duff underfoot kept our progress totally silent. We saw no game and heard few birds at midday. Soaring above us were hundreds of majestic Coast Redwoods over 300 feet in height. The Park brochure told us many trunks measured 25 feet in diameter. The oldest specimens had been dated to 1,500 years in age. Where mother trees had fallen, rings of daughters stood in circles surrounding their progenitor’s stump. Where shallow roots had been yanked completely from the earth by toppling trunks, the exposed platforms stretched 30 feet across.
The dark green foliage high above cast soothing shade. Shafts of diagonal sunlight penetrated this semi-gloom like theatrical spotlights. Lesser trees – we recognized Douglas firs – filled in the gaps between giants. Dripping ferns and neon-green mosses cloaked horizontal trunks. Red-capped mushrooms decorated carpets of sorrel.
The entire scene was mystical. The atmosphere, palpable. We drifted separately, without conversing, for two hours. I thought of Richard Powers’ haunting novel, THE OVERSTORY, about close encounters between humans and redwoods. I too felt I could communicate nonverbally with these ancient, enduring presences. This was their space, their place, and I was a mesmerized pilgrim.
Coming August 15:
The Lure of Trains