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The Road to the Muir Woods


In May of 2014, I had the privilege of returning to one of our country’s greatest natural treasures…the Pacific Coast. My specific destination was the diverse and captivating San Francisco bay area. For so very long had wished to return to this city and to the forrest situated just to the north. Thirty years earlier, in this magnificent area, I had experienced, for the first time, the majesty of the great coastal redwoods. John Muir, for whom these particular woods were named, was quoted as saying, “This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.”      In advance of this much anticipated trip, I wondered often if the experience would feel the same to me as my first visit. Would these woods once again inspire within me a deepsense of awe and wonder? Would I truly feel again the very connection of life amidst this extraordinary setting? And … would the drive required to get there still scare the wits out of me, as it had previously?! Understandably, I found myself both extremely excited and more than a wee bit nervous.      During the early 20th century, most of the two million acres of old growth forest in northern California were cut down. In a relatively short amount of time, the logging industry stripped the land of innumerous, immense trees that were hundreds of years old. Muir Woods, however, was spared this devastation due to the fact that accessing the area had been deemed too treacherous.       Being a true lover of the forest, of course, I had wanted to see this highly esteemed area. But getting there, in the mid-eighties, had proven to be a frightening challenge. Taking heed to this day is even advocated on the current government sponsored website which warns that “the roads to Muir Woods are very narrow and winding.” But, at the time, there was no website to warn my traveling companion and I. And the original narrow and winding road ran along extremely steep cliffs where guard rails, at best, were sparse and seemingly ineffective.      Imagine then, if you will, me as a much younger woman driving in a unfamiliar rental car along these precarious cliffs. My driving experience up until that point had been on the relatively flat roads of Florida. But I was not to be deterred – either by my fear or the impatient drivers behind me as I made my way very slowly toward the forest. Even my travel companion had to be asked to stop yelling out of fright so that I could more fully focus on our safety. Fortunately, in an inspired moment, we decided to create a large, hand written sign which we cleverly taped to the rear window of the car. It read:

Please be patient. We are from Florida.

     While the line of cars behind us remained long, at least the incessant honking had stopped. Plus, the honest and direct message made us both smile! Of course, we did eventually arrive safely, much to our relief and everyone else behind us.      Muir Woods, true to its namesake’s promise, was extraordinarily beautiful! I was touched by the grandeur far beyond even my own vivid expectations. The hushed silence in this ethereal sanctuary transcended any experiences I had ever known before.      Now, 30 years later, I was returning. Would the forest still have as much power and splendor as it had before? And … would the road required to get there still be as harrowing? My hope was that the decades of life that had transpired since my first visit would bring with them maturity in the presence of fear and still allow a childlike sense of awe as I stood amidst the colossal redwoods.      I am delighted to say that the road to Muir Woods, while still fraught with obvious danger, did not solicit the same level of fear in me as it had before. Was it because I knew that the destination would be worth the commitment required to get there? Having made this expedition in before, I believe that I was able, this time, to more fully appreciate the rewards that waited just ahead. I walked in toward the path noting the speckled light that shone down through the tall trees. The radiant beauty was still truly captivating and so immensely good for my soul.      I equate this pilgrimage to Muir Woods with the journeys we all make in our lives – both inwardly and outwardly. How often do we feel daunted by what lies ahead or even by what lies within? Yet, when we risk proceeding through the unknown and perhaps even the precarious, we can often discover amazing wonders. We may feel unsure and need to move with great caution. We may even be discouraged by those who witness and judge our seemingly slow progress. Yet, truly great rewards can be reaped when we have the courage to venture forth into the world, as well as, our own inner woods – through meditation, mindfulness and still being. By bravely navigating our own roads to wisdom, we will have access to tranquility, grace and beauty. The wonders to be discovered may well feel like the mighty trees of Muir Woods. So, enjoy the journeys of this life, my friend, even if, at times, the road seems scary and unfamiliar. For within each of us stands a presence that is tall and strong, resilient and majestic worth discovering.


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Mary@MaryHayes.org

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