A baby boomer’s Redwood Touchstone

If after a life of turmoil, you’re a baby boomer struggling to find some inner peace, you’ll want to read this essay by San Francisco author Carol Costello. You won’t necessarily have what she has to find that peace, but if you take her guidance, you too will find your own touchstone.

As a young Boomer in the late 1960s, I couldn’t wait to smash establishment touchstones. Old-style politics! Big corporations!! The System!!! White picket fences of all kinds!!!! We were here to save the world, and in fact we did stop the Vietnam war, goose social progress, and open doors for more acceptance all around.

But life without touchstones could feel a little rootless. Many of us doubled back to more traditional religion, families, politics, and work as we got older. Others created new touchstones like family hiking adventures every spring, or celebrating chosen and combined families. Others of us stumbled quite by accident onto our own non-traditional touchstones.

This is mine: I’ve been going to Jack London Park near Sonoma, an hour north of San Francisco, for forty years whenever I need to sort things out, heal from real or imagined tragedies, make decisions, or connect with something divine in nature. Each time, I hike up a sun-splashed trail to the lake through a grove of ancient redwoods. One particular circle of redwoods, or “cathedral,” has always called to me. It stands tall and majestic near a crook in the trail, towering over the madrone, live oak, and ferns, inviting me to come sit at its heart.

When I was younger and in the grip of romantic or professional chaos, I would step off the trail and sit on the ground at the very center of that cathedral. I imagined it was a power vortex, and prayed desperately — back then, not so much for wisdom as for help in bending people to my will. (I like to think this was a developmental stage.) Over the years, I at least learned to pray for wisdom. But I always sat at the center of those trees as a supplicant. Sometimes a desperate one.

Photo by David Henderson.

Last week I stood on the same trail by my cathedral, wondering if I really wanted to sit on that rather damp ground, but intrigued by the idea of superimposing my body now over all the younger versions of me who had sat there. As I stepped into the center and slowly lowered myself to the loamy forest floor, everything turned quiet. I didn’t hear birds flitting round, the wind in the trees, or even my mind.

Carol Costello

There was nothing to ask for. Sure, I could always use more money or love or creativity. But I didn’t need them. Something deeper and wider had grown up inside me while I wasn’t looking. A sense of being whole and complete, made of the same stuff as the mighty crimson-brown redwoods, at one with them and the entire swirl of existence. I felt tears on my cheeks, as I had over the years sitting on that same spot, but these were tears of relief, joy, gratitude, and belonging to something much bigger than I could imagine.

I stood up, brushed myself off, and thanked my touchstone redwood cathedral for showing me I’d gotten what I’d wanted all along— peace, and coming home to myself.

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  1. Forests are wonderful for solace, but those coastal redwoods are the best! Thanks, Carol, for your peaceful thoughts.

  2. This woman has been a friend of mine since grade school. The only negative comment I could possibly make of her writing ability along with many others, is that I don’t get to reap the benefits of her wisdom, intelligence, warmth, love she imparts from very up close as we live thousands of miles apart. Loved this article and felt every descriptive word of the forest and how you felt in the redwood cathedral!

  3. Carol’s words are like rays of sunshine through these grand, wise, old Redwoods. We should all find touchstones that remind us we are linked to this incredible planet, especially in this divisive political atmosphere. We need to reach out to protect these incredible parks, and our fellow men. Thanks, Carol. Very moving tribute.

  4. Lovely…a good reminder of the powerful sound of nature’s quiet – and the wisdom, and insight that comes with. Thanks Carol..your words paint a beautiful picture. I must get up there –

  5. Such a moving description written in a manner that allows me to experience the peace and beauty right along with Carol. Through her words I can transport myself into the woods in my mind and drift around in the solitude and grace of that magnificent forest. Thanks for the opportunity Carol.

  6. I am graced to live with a sizeable redwood and Sitka spruce forest I can gaze out at from my dining room and office windows. Until I moved here, I had always struggled whenever I went into the dark woods of my personal unknown. Often I’d feel despair, not seeing how there could possibly be a pathway for me through the dark.

    In living here and seeing this forest day by day by day, I’ve come to know – in physical reality certainly, but also mentally and spiritually – that there is always a path through the darkness to the other side. What it takes is sometimes exploration, often faith, and usually a good deal of letting go of my preconceived notions of how to get there. Thanks Carol for another perspective on gaining peace and well-being.

  7. Love that… “touchstone redwood cathedral.” We are beyond blessed to have these majestic redwood cathedrals in our backyard (literally in Golden Gate Park & figuratively north & south of us). Such a lovely capture of those moments that bring us right back to ourselves. Thanks for sharing this, Carol!

  8. So lovely, Carol. I am honored that I get the chance to share these redwoods with you from time to time! Lovely photos, too!

  9. Reading this, Carol, I could feel myself quieting, breathing more deeply, imagining the coolish air of this sacred space filling my lungs. Ahhh, the peace and ages old wisdom in that grove! Thank you for bringing me to your redwood cathedral and the opportunity to drop deep inside!

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