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.


  1. Thanks so much for writing this. It is a beautiful reminder to me. I grew up in the Bay Area but now live in Texas to be near my kids. I miss the redwoods very much. The sacred quiet in the middle of the place is magical.

  2. Oh my dear Carol. What a breath of “real” you are. You offer wisdom, courage and hope. The cathedral of the redwoods spoke to me long ago bringing me their peace and spiritual renewal. I’m no where near those stately reminders of God’s majesty, but periodically in moments of quiet, my soul recalls their message. Yes, you are home. You have all you need. You are safe, loved and cherished . Thank you Carol for bringing your message, the message of the redwoods, to renew my spirit.

  3. Carol…so beautifully written…I could almost feel I was there, experiencing each stage of your life as mine and arriving at the same place!
    Thank you!

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