Animism among the Redwoods

Animism among the Redwoods April 21, 2019

Around the spring equinox this year, my wife and I headed off to the redwoods of Northern California for a little back-to-nature time. At this point in our lives, our day jobs keep us deep in suburbia.

The Bay Area sometimes seems like living in science fiction, or at least cyberpunk. Autonomous cars, mega-corporations extracting global wealth, incessant surveillance, and incredible wealth disparity remind me that the cyberpunk future is here.

Among the Redwoods (top) ©2019 Polly Peterson, used with permission

To be fair, breathtaking nature seems to be over every hill out here. Despite that, daily life is pretty citified. And so, every once in a while, we seek respite.

We need to remind ourselves that there is a real world out there. Places where people are no more than visitors. Where the earth and stone is shaped by wind and rain, and trees reach for the sun.

The Really Real World

The real world is hardly shaped by people. Attempts to brand and commodify it both fall short and seem a bit ridiculous.

We drove just five hours north, and already we got the sense that we had come to the edge of civilization. This is where you can find the Avenue of the Giants. It runs over thirty miles through Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and is well worth the trip.

Among the Redwoods (middle) ©2019 Polly Peterson, used with permission

The best part of the trip was when we suddenly pulled off the road and into Williams Grove. Here we found the Gov. William J. Stephens Trail.

Though the park itself was nice, that’s true for most anything you can find along the Avenue. What made this space special was that we had it all to ourselves for about an hour.

Showers were falling among the trees as the sun tried to break out. Despite the occasional hum of cars going by, the woods themselves were otherwise silent. All we could hear was the rustling of the trees in the gentle breeze and the dripping of water off the branches and down onto the forest floor.

Becoming Real Again

It is one thing to write about animism as a daily experience of life. It is another thing entirely to get overwhelmed by the presence of a forest of massive living beings often ten or twenty times our age.

Among the Redwoods (bottom) ©2019 Polly Peterson, used with permission

The forest brimmed with life, with spirit. It was not like the thrumming disruption of a waterfall, but rather the seeming silence of life going far slower than what we are used to.

Our experience of the place beckoned us to slow down. To empty our minds. There, in the silence, we made a small offering to the spirits of that place. Among the redwoods, we returned to our whole selves.

About Christopher Drysdale
Christopher Drysdale is an animist, martial artist, shamanic practitioner, healer, psychopomp, and meditation teacher. He’s been pagan for more than 30 years, has a master’s degree in anthropology, and thinks making the world a better place is a pretty good idea. He makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can read more about the author here.
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  • AndersInChicago

    Thank you. The Japanese have a good word for your experience: shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. The bacteria present in such ancient landscapes are highly beneficial for our well-being. There is science behind this spiritual experience.

  • Gwion

    I never take for granted where I live and the access I have to ancient redwood forests, mostly unspoiled parks, wild places, rivers, and the ocean. And your blog was a nice reminder too. If you’re ever up this way, hit me up and we’ll go to a few of my favourite places – Gwion @thewitchesnextdoor

  • Thanks, Gwion. And thanks for reading, too.

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    One of the best outcomes of visiting the living world is the perspective reset we go through as we wander. We get a dose of “who we really are” versus “what we think we are” that is a spiritual breath of fresh air. We are reminded that to some lives, we are puffs of breeze and little more. We also have a chance to connect again with life; hard to do in the concreted-in hard surfaces of the city. Nature is alive in these places, and we gain some measure of that life by out visits to the natural and living world. For me, it’s the Angeles Crest, for some it’s Death Valley – the parts that are not touristed to death. it’s out there and we need it for our own souls’ sake.

  • davidt

    Big thumbs up well put. As someone whose job is to build those “concreted- in hard surfaces” I find it absurd most people simply sleep walk life and allow the things I make to be primary.

    i personally travel to the city to build I do not live in the city but live on the Oregon coast. People ask why , I say “I build Disneyland I can’t actually live in Disneyland. ” It’s all simply to synthetic for me.

  • davidt

    Well written, we need more……