There is a park just north of San Francisco called Muir Woods.
An amazing place. A chilly, mossy, damp place filled with impossibly large trees that block much of the sunlight. A richer darker green here than I normally associate with California. A richer earthier scent.
Yes, there are wooden paths and low wooden rails to keep you on the trail. Man-made bridges over the small stream. Educational landmarks along the way clearly marked and described in the small map and brochure you can buy at the park’s entrance. Benches for resting or appreciating the view.
Others mocked me for my happiness in such a clearly staged version of nature.
But I don’t like to be lost.
I don’t like to disappear.
I don’t like to feel afraid.
I don’t like to feel too small.
I took the girls to Muir Woods several times during our home-schooling adventures. So many lessons about California’s past to be learned here. So many bits of history caught in forested amber.
Each visit was a new adventure.
On this particular visit, we ventured up into the hills surrounding the valley of the main park. A steep climb that quickly tired the girls. We stopped for a moment and considered turning back, but then just ahead on the path there walked a deer and her two young fawns.
The three deer walked ahead of us up the hill, and we followed.
The mother was clearly accustomed to people, and she made no attempt to lead her children off of the path and into the forest. She turned occasionally to be sure that we weren’t closing the gap between our two families, and thus reassured, she led us all to the top of the hill.
All of us silent.
At the top, the mother deer suddenly turned and ran . . . the fawns kicking prancy back legs high into the air as they followed her and disappeared into the cool shadowy green.
Maj and Kallan and I stood for a moment, catching our breath.
We turned to look down into the valley from which we had ascended.
The sun had come out and it now shone down into the forest and seemed to pool below us . . . a golden heavy shimmering. As though sunlight was being poured from above in long liquid streams that tugged at the humid cool air as it flowed. Tugged at that cooler air and pulled it, steamy and vaporous and luminous, down to earth.
The sun shone down, but the impression was of an inner glow released.
As though the world below was lit from within.
We were silent.
And still without speaking, the three of us started back down the path. Back into the valley to stand in that sunlight. To feel that glow.
As we made our way down, we kept our eyes on the valley, watching as the golden green became a small meadow and the electric sparkles became reflected sunlight on a small dancing stream. The luminous pool of mist dissipated in the building heat. I worried that the magic would be different when viewed from below. So many things change based on one’s perspective . . . the space in which one stands to enjoy the view.
But still we descended, more quickly now.
And then there rose a cloud.
There rose a cloud from the forest floor.
Silent and filled with movement . . . a cloud alive.
Panic for a moment as Maj and Kallan’s first thought was of a swarm of bees.
We knelt together and I reassured the girls, “Look. Look at the slow lazy mass of them . . . look at how they are just specks in the sunlight. Look at the shine as they catch the light. I don’t know what they are, but they are not bees.”
So we walked the last bit of the way down the path and into the valley. Turned to walk into the sunlight and into the glow we had seen from above. Turned to walk into the cloud . . .
Thousands and thousands and thousands of ladybugs.
The air was speckled pink and red with their tiny outer shells, sunlight catching and glistening off the sparkly jeweled back of each tiny rubied beetle.
We stood silently in the sun as magic surrounded us.
I pulled my gaze down from the ruby-dappled sunlight to the faces of my two young daughters.
The sun shone down.
But the impression was of an inner glow released.
As though my daughters were lit from within.
My world . . .
Lit from within.