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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