“In the woods, a man casts off his years as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth.” Attributed Ralph Waldo Emerson.
I remember this moment clearly, reading the plaque in the Giant Forest Museum of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park a few years ago. It echoed in my heart as one of those exhilarating soul truths that quicken the breath as it freeze frames in time.
Since I was a young girl I longed to live out-of-doors. My dreams were made up of rivers and pine trees, and I’d spend as much time as allowed making castles out of stumps and low hanging branches. The faeries were my friends, and I never feared the forest. Perhaps this is where my love of camping arose.
To this day, I adore it. I am never as fulfilled as when I am setting up my tent in some lucky meadow underneath a canopy of trees. There is something incredibly satisfying about determining where everything should go, using creativity, resourcefulness, and sometimes a bit of necessary ingenuity to fashion a makeshift home in the middle of nature’s own.
Camping strips it all down. From sunrise to set, the day is about meeting basic needs in unusual ways. Like many, I have a fascination with fire. To coax a flame to life and then to prepare a meal atop it gratifies something deep down and ancient.
Campfire cooking is my specialty. A beautifully prepared steak, crispy corn, or warm potatoes baked in the coals provides a repast rich not only in flavor but in reward. The primal goddess inside smirks and sashays, stretching like a panther in delight of this primitive pleasure. I feel alive down to the cellular level. People spend hours meditating or doing yoga to achieve this heart, mind, body connection that comes to me by simply carrying out everyday living in the great outdoors.
I have been spoiled for choice living in Southern California. Beaches, desert, and mountains – they’re all within a couple hours of my home in West Hollywood, but it’s the North that truly calls me. One of my most memorable experiences came in the form of a 10-day camping trip up the coast of California into Oregon.
I began with the golden sands of Santa Barbara before moving on to explore Kerouac’s Big Sur, the fairytale Carmel-by-the-Sea, Del Norte Forest, and Pebble Beach. The mysterious giants of Redwood National Park gave me sanctuary and peace. I drove all the way up and over into Portland, but of all my discoveries that trip, Florence was my favorite.
Florence, Oregon is a small city on the Oregon coast, more fishermen’s village than anything. It’s positioned at the mouth of the Siuslaw River and offers more fantastic recreation than any tiny town should be allowed. I camped at Jessie Honeyman State Park. Verdant green-ringed grounds surround two, natural freshwater lakes. The Oregon Dunes National Recreation area stretches from lake to ocean. In fact, I had my first sandboarding experience down the slopes of the giant that leads into Lake Cleawox. Another morning I took a canoe out to fish Woahink.
Closer into town there are shops on the wharf that offer crab traps for rent. I tried my hand at them one day and was surprised to pull up a heavy load. A friendly seal came to take closer inspection. In addition to my spotted companion, Florence is also known for its vast sea lion caves. Seabirds and migrating whales make up more wildlife with views best from the restored 19th-century Heceta Head Lighthouse.
Between river and lakes and ocean I could not have been happier, and it was difficult to leave. One of my traveling traditions is to begin planning the next journey as the one currently on comes to a close. This staves off the sorrow of what feels like an ending. So I began to plot the next location for my nylon dwelling not realizing, of course, that Lodgepole would become my special place on earth.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir, one of my heroes. For anyone not familiar, “John of the Mountains” was a Scottish-American author, naturalist, and environmental philosopher. He was one of the earliest and most eloquent advocates for the preservation of the U.S. wilderness and is largely responsible for the salvation of Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. I was at Sequoia when I read this quote. The words tingled down my spine and as I stepped back out into the sunshine they seemed to breathe through me.
My memory of camping at Lodgepole is suffused in soft light, a dream filter, hazy in the mind but keenly felt in the heart. John’s words echoed throughout the days. The winds whispered them to the pines and the river laughingly passed them onto the stones as it ran by. It was wildly spiritual to witness a beauty so intense that it pierced the veil of my reality and rewrote life as I knew it.
Lodgepole is located in central California’s handsome Sierra Nevada range. The best tent sites are on the banks of the Kaweah River. It’s the Marble Fork of it that sluices this part of the terrain, and it was my adventurous desire to follow it up into the mountains that rewarded me with my first taste of real magic.
If one does so there is a secret spot where the water has carved a crystal rock pool out of the boulders. The river fills it with fresh, cold water, splashing over the side into a multi-tiered waterfall that falls into a larger pool below before continuing on its course. The sun bakes the granite and one can spend an entire afternoon alternating between the invigorating waters and the warm comfort of the stone. This is my special place on earth.
There is much else to see of course. The resplendent Giant Forest Grove and the commanding General Sherman are only two miles from the campground. General Sherman is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth, estimated at over 2,000 years old. There are miles of trails, canyons and caverns, lush meadows, and deep pockets of forest.
To me this is true luxury. The ability to be – just be. To breathe and walk and see. John Muir also said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” I couldn’t agree more.