Part 3. Natural Wonders
In the evening it is almost dark when I take a short walk through the campground. Rounding the far loop I come upon nine elk grazing the sparse grass in the center. Nearly indistinct in the shadows, an enormous bull elk turns my way. The females and two younger ones lift their heads. Monumental in their own right, statuesque, taller than me, they regard me with big dark watchful eyes, waiting to see what I will do. I freeze. I am way too close. The park sign, “Do not approach elk on foot,” flashes through my brain. Part of me wants to stay and watch these beautiful animals, observe their moves, but common sense prevails. I back right out of there and retreat to the campfire.
In many ways, it was a magical moment, however brief. Call it what you will, those animals seemed, not only unafraid, but expectant. In fact, upon reflection I can say the same thing about this old growth redwood forest. It dates back to antiquity. Some redwood trees have lived for 2000 years or more. They are the real Christmas trees, the giants who witnessed a significant change in history the night Christ was born. They have lived through the whole cycle of Christendom. Now they serve as forest guardians, nurturing abundant life in all its richness and diversity. Expectant, they stand like Advent participants, watching and waiting. I could write that as a parable of hope, but that’s another story. (See: The Christmas Redwood, a Forest Parable)
When I get back to camp the grandchildren are already bedded down in their sleeping bags, laughing about banana slugs. The end of a perfect day, Don and I linger by the dying fire. I’m glad we stopped at Prairie Creek to take a second look. The redwood forest is a wonder. The grandchildren have seen real Christmas trees. May these trees live forever.
Quiet spreads over the camp. In the stillness we grow aware of a new sound flowing from the upper reaches of the forest, a faint swooshing and rustle. My senses are on high alert. I have read about this, but I’ve never before heard it, soughing. With a faraway sound like an ocean tide, the wind is moving through the highest canopy, and chills run down my backbone. I hold my breath and listen. In the silence of the forest, soughing comes again. Illusive, distant, it flows aloft, a sound so elemental it speaks directly to the heart.