Over Thanksgiving week, my husband and I spent some time in Sonoma County. I had been asked to preside at the wedding of a childhood acquaintance and it afforded us a lovely getaway, a return to California where we met and turned into adults, but to a part, we had not spent a lot of time in before. Many people have asked if we saw evidence of the wildfires. We saw Sonoma Strong! signs in shops and cafes and by the side of the road.  Some wineries had baskets where you could donate toiletries for people who had lost their homes. We thought we did not see much evidence in the area where we were staying, but fire damage plays tricks on your eyes. It is not until after you have passed it that you realize, “Oh, part of that field is black and those two dark stumps were probably trees,” because they sit in the middle of a golden green meadow, surrounded by vineyards that are red and orange and yellow. At one point, we were driving on the scenic road between Calistoga and Geyserville and I realized, just as we passed it, that we had seen the remains of a house. Fire reduces things to almost nothing, ash and dark piles close to the ground. It was only the strange shape of what might have been a melted refrigerator surrounded by charcoaled rubble that tipped me off.  And two hundred yards away sat a house untouched. The randomness of how and where the fires touched down, what was consumed and what was left alone, was humbling. It made me feel small and vulnerable.

Another remarkable and contrasting natural experience was a visit to the Armstrong National Redwoods Park. It houses a stand of exquisite coast redwood trees, most of them two hundred to three hundred feet tall, that age from five hundred to over a thousand years old. The oldest tree in the park, named the Colonel Armstrong Tree, is estimated to be over fourteen hundred years old and over three hundred seventy feet tall. A few redwoods have lived over twenty-four hundred years old.  

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It was foggy, damp, and significantly cooler as we moved slowly through their hallowed assembly. I could feel my neurology begin to slow down, my breath deepened, and I walked taller inspired by their fierce uprightness. It was as if we had been granted an audience with some ancient, stoic, bark-covered angels, deeply rooted in the earth, but equally comfortable conversing with clouds. They had seen it all, bared it all, endured it all. Silent and still, they imparted an ease and graciousness to see our lives for the impermanent, frenzied, sweet messes they are. They offered us an invitation to gently expand our worldviews to include a much larger universe, a timelessness that swallows up wars and presidents and plaques. They helped me to remember that we are not alone in a vast empty cosmos. We are accompanied by these living examples of God’s steadfastness. Before Jesus walked the earth, God gave us redwoods. And that made me feel small and serene.