I’m vacationing in Northern California this week, on the Russian River, enjoying a break from the bleak, scorching brightness of LA. It is very hot here as well, but the heat is mitigated by the deep, nearly mystical shade from the redwood trees. Driving into Guerneville, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive, frightened – like little red riding hood venturing into the woods, I felt something scary would happen under the gloomy canopy of the impossibly tall trees.
It’s a matter of psychogeography. Guy Debord coined the term as the effect of the geographical environment on the emotions and behavior of individuals. In Los Angeles, the bright sun and constant light bouncing around bright, reflective surfaces makes for an unrelenting awareness of your environment. In the woods, things are blurry, obscured, somewhat hushed. It feels odd making too much noise in the woods, as if you are yelling in a cathedral. The air is still, and the branches create the hushed coolness that is present in every church, no matter where they are. Churches in the Amazon are still cooler than the surrounding buildings – why is that?
Walking from our cabin to the river, we pass by rowdy gardens full of giant sunflowers, spent and nodding on their tall stalks, as if they want the redwoods to know that they too, are bigger than average. Brambles are everywhere, and the path to the rocky beach is lined with sweet dark fruits. We pick handfuls and enjoy our snacks. Emerging into a clearing, the smell of sage and artemisia is heavy in the air, pungent and clean. Floating in the water I see the tops of the redwoods standing guard over the banks of the river, casting a cooling shade over my pale skin, insuring that today, I won’t burn.
Walking back from the river, wild fennel sways back and forth and I gather seeds for later. They’ll be delicious in a pasta. I put a dried salvia blossom in my hair and had a few more berries. I laughed to myself about my earlier fear of the tall trees – because in this heat, they sheltered the growth that made my experience of this environment so poignant. The dappled light doesn’t scorch – it is just right. So maybe this fairy tale isn’t about the girl and a wolf, maybe it is more like the three bears, and I am Goldilocks – finding something that feels just right.