Each Thanksgiving in my family we forego the china, the silver, the crystal and the genteel comforts of home. Instead, we seek out the wild and celebrate with a feast in the forest. This being California and all, I won't settle for just any forest. Known as Sequoia sempervirens to the scientific community, the coastal redwoods is our venue of choice. It is amongst the ancients, the old growth, and the tallest of the tall where we set our Thanksgiving table.
California's oldest park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park, is located in the Santa Cruz mountain range just 65 miles south of San Francisco and approximately 25 miles northwest of Santa Cruz city. Within its boundaries lie an ancient stand of coastal redwoods considered one of the tallest and oldest on earth. Some of these trees stand over 300 feet tall, 50 wide in circumference, and are estimated to be over 1,000 to 2,000 years old. Here they stand, alive, in our very own state. Imagine -- a living thing over 2,000 years old. And you can touch it.
Amongst these old growth coastal redwoods we seek shelter in the colder months at the Big Basin Tent Cabins. Tent cabins are simple, small wooden structures with green tent-like canvas on top. Inside each one-room cabin are two platform beds with foam pads, a small table, and a wood-burning stove. It is not really about what's in a tent cabin that counts. Nowhere in a tent cabin will one find Wi-Fi, plug-ins, outlets, or even electricity. Absent also is the telephone and room service. No "i-things" will work here for long. Batteries die. Memories live. For three short days we are off the grid. "Streaming" takes on new meaning as we hike along the dry stream beds exploring fallen redwoods morphed into natural bridges and play apparatus for children, both young and old. Makeshift bows are built from branches. New trails are discovered while the well-traveled ones rekindle memories from Thanksgivings past.
Come Thanksgiving Day we cook our feast over open fire and small camp stove. Cornish game hens roast in cast-iron Dutch ovens. Beneath the game hens a mélange of root vegetables and squash seasoned with fresh rosemary, sage and thyme is assembled. If we've timed it right we eat at dusk at the picnic table outside the tent cabin. Kerosene lanterns light up the table giving off a glow and serenade us with its fuel-injected hum. By the time the pie is cut and slices served we look up through a canopy of redwoods gazing at the stars which seem to shine more brightly here than in our usual urban habitat. The stars signal to us it's time for the night hike.
Dinner is wrapped, headlamps are donned, and we're off in the forest again. Redwoods appearing docile by day now cast menacing shadows. The darkness plays upon our imaginations as we wonder what lies beyond the light of our battery-operated devices. The question is answered with a set of beady little eyes peering through the thicket of the huckleberry bushes. These stripe-tailed bandits, commonly known as racoons, dash up the nearest tree evading our interloping ways. Spotting them in the thicket makes us worry about what we may have left on the table. So we turn back to the cabin to gather around a warm open fire for s'mores, stories, and song.
This Thanksgiving, as in years prior, I give thanks to the redwoods which have stood the test of time and given me and my family years of wonderful Thanksgiving memories. Equal appreciation goes to Ralph S. Smith, a news editor out of San Mateo who advocated, cajoled, and corralled his government to save these ancient trees. Lasting gratitude also goes to the state elected representatives who, in 1901, passed the Senate bill creating the first state park which, 113 years later, I call home each Thanksgiving.
More information about Big Basin Redwoods State Park can be found at: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=540. Tent cabin reservations, as well as tent and RV camping, can be made online via Reserve America at: http://www.reserveamerica.com. For more information regarding the tent cabins go to: http://www.bigbasintentcabins.com/ online or call (831) 338-4745.