Many years ago, when I was living in California, a friend of mine had a little cabin in Forest Knolls, in a redwood forest in the hills, an hour or so north of San Francisco. I’m sure those cabins have been replaced by condos, but at the time, the area was full of quirky little shacks inhabited by even quirkier people.
Once, on a visit, he asked me if I wanted to see the Mother Tree. We set off, walking and in a half hour or so, came to her. She was a huge, old redwood, obviously hundreds (thousands?) of years old. She dwarfed the other trees, which were all second-growth. It was startling, in fact, to realize just how puny the other redwoods looked; spindly little striplings compared to the mother tree. She was, in fact, the sole survivor out of her impossibly huge brethren who had all been logged, probably 50 years before my visit. What saved her was not the kindness of the timber companies, rather it was her own deformity. While redwoods are known for their immense height and straight lines, Mother Tree was malformed, maybe even hideous in tree terms. She looked like an oversize candelabra, her trunk split into many individual trunklets, a Siamese tree quintuplet. Hideous and unlovely, of no commercial value, she was spared by the loggers. She sat, the last of the great trees of that forest. I walked back to the cabin feeling a sense of loss and grief. That was a lifetime ago.
The drive from Portland to the coast is about two hours. You enter the forests, as soon as you climb out of the Willamette Valley and into the Coast Range. These are not the original forests that once covered the hills. Those have been logged so many times, clear-cut and burned, that almost nothing of that biome remains. You know this is true, but it is hidden. You only see it when you pass through the new cuts. There, amidst the charnel wreck of tree limbs and brush pile from the recent cull, you see the stumps of the vanished first trees; impossibly huge remnants, the cuffs of the Douglas firs, Red Cedar, Western Hemlock and Sitka spruce, of the original forest.
There is nothing left to do at the put in. Carry down to the water’s edge. Slide in your boat. Lean back, hook the lip of the spray skirt behind you; lean forward, stretch it to the bow coaming. Run your fingers around the edge to make sure you are sealed in tight. The beach break is clean and that moment, when the wave first raises your boat so that the paddle bites water instead of sand, is always good.