The Nuclear Option: Silence Among Sequoias Gives Solace from a Noisy World

The Nuclear Option: Silence Among Sequoias Gives Solace from a Noisy World

For those who generally prefer the company of trees over the company of people, Muir Woods is a transportive place to visit. If you get here right at sunrise, you will have the 500 acres pretty much to yourself, except for the exuberantly randy gobbler that came charging out of the forest to confront the rental car and gobble himself blue and red in the face.

Muir Woods is nestled in a valley a few hundred feet above the Pacific Ocean just a short walk away.

Typing pixels in the form of letters that make up words in an effort to describe the startling beauty of these ancient giants is but among the latest of man’s follies. These trees precede the printed word.

A sharp intake of air or caveman groan of uneasy wonder are just as good as any English words strung together and printed on paper. The urge to drop your knees into the peaty soil and outstretch your arms as if seeing someone’s long-lost face in heaven is also understandable.

Some weep. Some get the shivers. Some just fall silent as they enter the cavernous forest and stare upward.

The gentle monsters congregate in places, a family descending from the same father 800 years ago. Others stand alone, happy orphans from tiny cones scattered by wind.

The oldest in Muir Woods date back 1,200 years.

Any tree more than a couple of hundred years old bears the scars of nature. Trees are charred by fire, struck by lightning, whipped by earthquakes, toppled in avalanches or knocked over by bigger trees as they fall.

As the rising sun peeks over the valley rim and rides up the tremendous trunks, shafts of light slice into openings in the forest canopy. In places, the light is muted by mist clutched by the forest’s own weather system.

Here, even the dead hold extraordinary beauty. They live 100 years more as hosts to bugs, birds, centipedes and even young redwood sprouts.

This forest is a monument to everything that is not man. It stands in spite of man.

Snapping pictures on your phone, you realize there is not a hint of cell reception in this valley of giants. No, your silly tools of communion do not function here in this cradle of mossy towers.

All the knotted tensions of modern technology melt away. The madness of men and politicians goes mute, except for a vulgar plaque in Cathedral Grove commemorating a gathering there of politicians from the United Nations.

A massive crosscut of a trunk near the entrance reveals the rings of time as measured by that particular tree, which sprouted in the year 909.

A white line marks 1492. Several inches outside of that, a line marks 1776. Barely an inch later is 1930, when the tree died.

The deeply humbling display puts the arc of man’s folly into perspective.

On leaving, you are finally confronted by the throngs. The wild turkey is long gone. As you slip down the zigging and zagging roads back into the oppressive California heat, you are once again embraced in the sweet, sticky smell of the eucalyptus trees.

Then it happens. Your deep peace is assaulted by that criminally insidious song “Happy” that has swarmed the planet like a cross between bird flu and a venereal disease. Your hand flies to quiet the vile noise.

And then you think of the tree rings. Do math in your head. You realize that however odious that song may be, it won’t survive a single ring among the giant sequoia. It will survive an amount of time not even measurable. Perhaps just a tiny splinter in time that will dry up and blow away to never be remembered again.

Charles Hurt can be reached at and on Twitter @charleshurt.