I could go on and on about the majesty of these monumental trees, and the awe of camping beneath them, but one evening stands out in my mind, an experience to carry with me the rest of my life.
The Ranger-led trek began late at night. We met at the trailhead and were instructed to leave our flashlights behind. It was a moonless night, not that much moonlight could find the forest floor anyway. We followed the Park Ranger deep into the forest, our only illumination the single beam of his flashlight. We walked carefully for some time, and finally arrived at a clearing. That deep in the forest, the only sounds were of night creatures, and the small circle of humans huddled together on fallen logs, listening avidly to our guide.
No sooner were we seated, feeling safe and secure in our little huddle, than our guide extinguished his flashlight. A chorus of squeals and groans rent the night. He offered assurances in the dark, and we settled. He explained. We were to remain there for twenty minutes or so, allowing our eyes to adjust to the total darkness. Once we had acquired our night-sight, we would advance deeper into the forest to a spot where the canopy obscured even the brightest sunlight.
We learned that light is measured in candlepower, the lowest measure being the light of one single candle. Once we reached our destination, the Park Ranger told us he would light one candle, and he promised, with our newly acquired night vision, we would be astounded at the power of that one candle.
When we were sufficiently adapted, we joined hands like Kindergartener’s and walked single-file into the deepest section of the Redwood Forest. It was a hushed group. We mumbled under our breath as our feet faltered on exposed roots, and the sound of things scurrying about as we intruded on their nocturnal wanderings met our ears.
The Ranger knew his stuff. We could indeed see much better than we thought possible in the absence of light, but as we made our way, cautious step by cautious step, what little we could see became less and less. After what seemed like hours, but was probably only twenty minutes, we came to a halt beneath one of the largest trees on the planet. In the total darkness, we could make out the outline of the enormous tree trunk, and if we got close enough, the wood rail fence surrounding it.
We huddled close, stood silently for a few minutes as our eyes adjusted to the curtain of black surrounding us. It was impossible not to be grateful this wasn’t our life. Distance meant nothing. The smallest sounds elevated to ear-splitting levels. We relied on each other, and our limited sight bonded us.
Our eyes darted away from the beacon and landed on faces, now clear as if the sun had made a miraculous appearance. We looked beyond our group to the surrounding forest, amazed at the shadowed recesses, now visible in the light of a single candle. We could make out individual trees, limbs, the curve of the path we’d walked like blind mice on a string a few minutes earlier. Our girls, grateful for the light, took in the change, impressed, despite their young years at this lesson in the natural sciences.
The candle burned low, and eventually, extinguished. We waited until our eyes adjusted to the darkness before reforming our string of human bodies and retracing our steps. Gradually, we began to make out more and more of the trail, as the canopy thinned and the light from distant stars illuminated our way. What we’d previously thought as total darkness now proved to be passably well lit. Slowly we dropped hands and walked more naturally, enjoying the sights and sounds of the dark, but not sleeping forest.
To this day, our daughters speak of this adventure as a singular moment in their lives. It was a few hours out of our busy lives, but a memory to carry with us the rest of our lives.