Belonging Together: Family Vacations and Redwood Forests

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Our family’s two week vacation of choice, or necessity, was camping. We loaded up the minivan and another car, or a borrowed RV, sparing no lawnchair or bicycle. Our comfort and recreation top priority. The chosen destination for my teenage years was the California State Park system, specifically the California Redwoods. Favorites included: Prairie Creek State Park, near Arcata, CA and Big Basin Redwoods outside of Santa Cruz.

Having a pastor for a father, meant that our family of seven vacationed on a budget. The California State Park system was suitable for the pocketbook. In exchange for a campsite, tent and supplies for one week’s use, my dad handled the work of chaplain for the campground, providing an outdoor Sunday service. Each Saturday, our reluctant brood canvassed the campground, dispensing flyers, inviting all to attend the following day. My sister and I sang, the boys played instruments, I broke out a rousing flute solo, Dad preached a short sermon. While I would have rather been a million other places, the umbrella of trees, the amphitheater with the intimate congregation, provided an unparalleled setting to showcase our talents, while basking in the astonishing beauty.

The California Coast Redwoods, a remarkable feat of creation, few living things compare to the forest’s vast grandeur. The trees tower upward of 380 feet in height and 29 feet in diameter. The coastal fog and rain supply needed moisture. Under the shelter of needles, one feels held, protected, ensconced in the faded, muted light.

Trees grow together in Fairy Rings, or family groups. A collapsed mother tree will provide an ideal birthplace for young clones to emerge out of her root base. These infant trees with their identical genetic material, perpetuate the species, re-creating what is already unique and perfect, the family’s roots all shallow and connected. The “duff” – dirt and stuff – of the forest floor, the substrate optimal for this regeneration, a product of the decomposing work of bugs, banana slugs and damp air. Recycling at its finest occurring right before our eyes.

This morning I read from A Grounded Lent  by Diana Butler Bass:

Have you ever been somewhere that made you feel like you were home? A place that gave you a powerful sense of connection, of mysterious presence, of knowing yourself more deeply? Some scientists now suggest that our genes carry patterns of memory that we inherit from our ancestors, and these memories actually connect us with people and practices from long ago. We do “remember” places we have never been. In this way, the past is always with us. Perhaps some places jog deep and ancient memory, alerting us to a different reality than the one of our immediate experience. Is this one of the ways we “remember” God? Are there places that serve as the holy ground of our lives?

The Redwood forest is one of my places, mysterious, tapping into the unknown portions of my body and being. Wonder – the only appropriate response. I recognize I am a part of something larger than me, something timeless, superseding my human era, a place where past relatives may have stood, the same response of awe and wonder filling their bodies.

We sprout from one another, as the trees, not as exact clones, but as part of the human tapestry. Our shared experiences, our bodies grounded together. God, the Creator, dwelling with us, working alongside us through creation. The care we provide for one another and the care we provide for the earth a direct corollary to our care for God. Tending to our communities, our land – tending to God. Dispensing love to the least of these, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, the hungry – loving God. The earth under our feet, the oxygen of our lungs, the water comprising our bodies, demonstrates our connection to one another. The organism of our collective humanity, linked and intertwined as the Redwoods’ root system.

We belong together. Your children are mine, my children are yours. Your unrest is my unrest. Your lack of peace is my lack of peace. Your unjust treatment is my unjust treatment. Your child’s exploitation is my child’s exploitation. The pain of yours is mine, too. We dwell under the same stars, the same sky. The sun’s rays shine upon us all. Our connection through dirt, through sky, through water.

The news has been overrun by fearful rhetoric of walls and borders and deportation and THEM. There is no THEM. There is me and you and us and we. Our collective humanity, our we, our us is threatened. Our collective needs a break from the fear. Our children need help, our mothers and fathers and sons and daughters are suffering. I bear in my body the ache of another. My discontent, unattributed pain and angst, my striving and competition – all a reflection of the world’s need, of our need.

May we see, may we act in the work of relief, the work of bearing burdens and lightening loads.

The needled canopy offers solace, the low-hanging fog, the mystery of shrouded treetops. The fuzzy gloom a welcome refuge from the burden of the bright light. I find comfort, knowing I am held, I am grounded, weighted by the thousands of years of the treed existence. My life, other lives lifted and supported by another’s once lived.

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I would like to introduce you to the Al Antoz Family. A family of 10, Syrian refugees presently living in a camp in Lebanon. Our family is sponsoring them within Lebanon and if you feel inclined/connected please join us with any contribution as it will make a remarkable difference in this family’s life. You can read all about the Al Antoz family and our campaign here.

20160224_113758Hamsa Al Antoz, age 4.

Thank you for donating and recognizing we all belong together.