Indigo On The West Coast - Part 4
A stroll in the woods is good for the soul.
It's August 2008. The redwood forest in California is beautiful in the late afternoon. The trees, needlessly-yet-gloriously mighty, tower above us. A cool breeze inspires the summer leaves to a dappled display of light and shadow. A woodchipped path, soft underfoot, leads the way into the woods.
I'm with Eolist Petite, my shortest and most caffeinated of friends. This is our final day in California, and we've come to see some Nature. And we're in awe; Nature does not disappoint.
I'm glad we made time for this. says Eolist, ducking under an extremely low branch; her limited height has few advantages, and she makes the most of them. I amble along beside her, stepping over the branch*, and offer an affirmative noise. I feel wonderfully relaxed, and I'm snapping away on the camera like the enthusiastic amateur I am. We're in "the Golden Hour", a great time for atmospheric shots, and I'm making the most of the remaining daylight; I've never seen trees looking so beautiful. Eolist is similarly contemplative, asking,
I wonder if the boys got home okay?
[ * my height has its own advantages. ]
It's yesterday. Yavin the badger and my best friend 'Difficult have joined us on a trip to see the Point Reyes Lighthouse. North of San Francisco, the beautiful Point Reyes National Seashore area is replete with moody beaches and grassy expanses, and has wowed us on the drive up. But as the four of us stand on the sunny clifftops looking down to the sea-level lighthouse, our shared sense of spectacle is profound; it's beautiful here.
All that separates us from the lighthouse is a set of steps. A set of three hundred steps, to be precise. It's a long way down, and the return journey seems somewhat daunting, but Eolist and I start our descent. Our companions linger, considering their options; they're skilled engineers and very creative at the end of the day, and are bound to think of something.
I'm glad we made time for this! says Eolist, laughing enthusiastically as our speed increases into a near jog; the steps are many and shallow, but the incline is steeper than it looks.
We pause giggling at a conveniently-placed bench halfway down; I'm more than a little out of shape. Taking sips from a bottle of water, we're amused as 'Difficult strolls purposefully down toward us; Yavin is perched in his shoulders.
300 steps, but only one of us is walking! roars 'Difficult cheerfully as he passes. So, only 150 steps each, on average!
The badger gives us a wink and a wave; he's a smart one, that lad.
Back in the now, I notice that the forest has darkened a little; the afternoon's warmth has evaporated with the fading light, and the trees are certainly taller, broader and more densely packed. The woodchipped path winds a little more as a result, but occasionally passes through a tunnelled-out redwood. In a curious way, this adds to its fairytale beauty and sense of drama.
Do we find the gingerbread cottage anytime soon? asks Eolist, her mind moving in similar circles. And though I chuckle, I feel a frisson of something darker, too.
I snap a few photos of Eolist and the scenery, but the results on the camera's tiny screen are gloomy, flat moments in time. They don't reflect the environment in which we find ourselves, and it looks like I have dust on my lens anyway. I frown and pop the camera away.
They certainly made a quick exit, reflects my companion, returning to our previous conversation. I nod, pleased to have a distraction from the actual moment.
It's yesterday again, and we've all reached the lighthouse. Yavin, now back on the ground, directs 'Difficult's attention to an engineering shed that probably contains a generator; they head off to inspect it.
Eolist and myself enjoy a quick guided tour of the tiny lighthouse with Barbara, a charming and knowledgeable employee who seems pleased to have some visitors. She tells us of the long history of the headland, most of which she's far too young to have experienced firsthand. She then proudly shows us the magnificent Fresnal-lensed beacon that is the centrepiece of the lighthouse; it's a beauty.
Puzzled by the poor light indoors, I ask why the curtains are closed. Barbara tells us with a grin that on sunny days like today, if they don't keep them tightly shut, the lens has a habit of focusing the light and setting fire to things. We all have a good laugh at this - I notice the fire extinguishers for the first time - and move on with the tour outside.
As we move away, Yavin and 'Difficult enter the lighthouse behind us. They look somewhat oily, presumably as a result of inspecting the generator. I shake my head; engineers, never afraid to get their hands - or paws - dirty.
In fact, they seem to prefer it that way.
We stand at the railed edge of the property - there's still quite a drop to the sea - and Barbara entertains us with whale-watching tales of cold Novembers. We're interrupted by a muffled shriek and a long, recognisable bubbling hiss from indoors. Moments later, a charred and foamy iDifficult traipses from the lighthouse followed by Yavin. The badger fails to surreptitiously deposit a still-frothing fire extinguisher beside the lighthouse door before strolling nonchalantly back towards the long stairway.
Barbara hurries indoors to check for damage as we run over to our friend. He mumbles something about his trousers mysteriously bursting into flame after he wiped his oily hands on the curtains.
We're glad he's okay, but can't help laughing as we encourage him to follow Yavin before official questions are asked. He says they'll be heading back to England now, and hurries away without explanation; I take him at his word, and don't ask questions.
Back in the now, the forest is darker - far too dark for photos - and its palette of hues has collapsed; it's like we've wandered out of our depth along the seabed, and the water has stolen the happier colours. The woodchipped path has deteriorated into mud, as if there's been heavy rainfall in this part of the forest only.
I'm aware that I'm holding Eolist's hand - clearly we feel there's valour in numbers - and that there are noises. The breathing of the forest is always there if you listen for it, but right now it just sounds like hushed voices. They whisper here and there down through the breeze-rustled canopy, talking of night and fear and the remoteness of the real world.
Our world is blue and brown and deepest green. And inky, unknowable black.
We both feel it; there are ghosts here.
Eolist is no stranger to spectral apparitions, having seen angels and spirits in her house many times. She's even confronted them, spoken to them. But this is new to me, and I don't care for it much. The Dinky Dynamo looks up at me and smiles in a way that says I have nothing to worry about, but our tension is shouting loud.
I trust her, and we proceed.
The path ahead passes through another wide, hollowed out tree. We've gone through several of these, but Eolist stops short suddenly and looks at it. She starts to speak, but stops again just as abruptly. She stares a while, her head cocked, listening. I start to speak and she shushes me. And then she stares some more, all the time focused on the path through the tree.
Finally, she slowly shakes her head and leads me around the tree in a wide, careful circle. It's not easy, and my foot slips on a loose earth and a wet rock, but I find my balance and keep up with her guiding hand.
We don't return to the path for thirty seconds.
Questions are forming on my tongue, but Eolist silences me with a simple, Don't look back. The voices of the forest are fading, but we both feel the attention at our backs; I don't think of disobeying her.
The path bends round presently, and in a few minutes the terrain is friendlier, and we're back at the well-lit car park. The inside of the car is a welcome haven, and we head away at speed.
I feel relieved, as if we've passed a test. But I'm sad, too. We both fly home tomorrow - Eolist to the East Coast, and myself to London - and it's been an amazing holiday; this is not how we want it to end.
But dinner awaits, so there's time for a few final memories.
Two hours later, with dinner behind us, we're checking out our photos of the day on the computer.
I laugh as I show Eolist my images from the forest; they're poor photos. I look hot and sunburned, and the interference I saw on the camera screen is more noticeable.
Eolist frowns and shows me her photos. The same scenes, the same visual aberrations. In different places on each framed shot; it's not dust on the lens. Something airborne, then? But something that we couldn't see? And with identical lens reactions to it on different cameras? Unlikely.
We look closer, and are surprised to see tiny balls of light, which when examined very closely, almost seem to have a structure to them. They look almost organic.
Not dust, my tiny friend concludes unhappily, tho she offers no opinions about what they might be.
But we both know the forest did not seem friendly as darkness fell.
I don’t sleep well that night.
A stroll in the woods is good for the soul.
But sometimes it's bad for the nerves.
Prelude - Gravity Takes Hold Again
Part 1 - But For Our Olympic Coughing
Part 2 - Beyond The Notice Of Physics
Part 3 - Her Words Are Swept Away
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