Old Trees, Kids with Sticks, and also, When will a period not ruin a day? Part 2

We have a charming, old sea-side hotel room in Santa Cruz. The balcony faces the boardwalk, which is comprised of amusement rides running at full speed. It’s all we can do not to linger between the dark ocean and bright lights. Despite jet-lag, Chasity and I walk through the empty but still illuminated boardwalk. Secretly, I’m considering something.

I started a book about this boardwalk.–about a runaway girl who gets a long board (skateboard) during the pandemic and meets a boy. I want to revisit the scene where a city cop approaches some kids with too much paranoia and the kids must de-escalate the situation. Perhaps my scene is a little too political, or pessimistic. This place is so magical and vibrant.

When we can’t fight it any more, we retire the hotel room. I find Friends on the TV and eat a bag of Cheetos and a clementine. Chas watches for a moment, but requests the TV be turned off to fall asleep.

I quietly begrudge turning the TV off but also I get it. The habit of falling asleep to a TV is a bad one and an unpopular one. So I turn it off, only to hear Chasity turn on a phone generated fan noise. I can still hear Santa Cruz outside, though. So, I lay facing the balcony where a sliver of boardwalk lights reach my eyes. I dream of being a kid who grew up within walking distance of the Santa Cruz boardwalk.

And how, maybe I would have smoked weed for the first time under the boardwalk, or gotten drunk and puked on the roller coaster and been banned. I think I could have been the kind of kid who made sure her first kiss was at midnight, in the sand, with a full moon reflected in the low tide.

I’m so used to traveling with people who don’t ride rides–it doesn’t cross my mind that, when we succumb to our exhaustion and let go of the day, Chasity is dreaming of riding the wooden roller coaster, too.

Thursday morning, we rise before the sun and the city (and even the hotel breakfast). We aren’t gonna pass up on a free breakfast, so we wait in the car as it sprinkles on the windsheild. By 7:30, we are fed and I have packed extra nutri-grain bars and bananas for us from the hotel breakfast bar.

We set our phones’ navigation to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It continues sprinkling and the fog thickens as we drive through Ben Lomond. We admire homes that remind us of Kentucky hills: humble structures with driveways crammed between the road and the front door, junk in the side yards, vegetation wild along the fence lines. Steep inclines, and thick tree canopies.

Then I look down to see that we have a gas light on.

“Shit,” I say aloud. How does a car not have a bell or siren when the gas light comes on? Now I’m wondering how much further we have to go. We are passing signs that say ‘road closed ahead.’ I can only imagine the Honda Accord we rented from Turo also doesn’t accurately measure the amount of gas left and we will be stranded on a closed road. We’ll have to walk back to Boulder Creek, and then carry gas back to the car in Big Basin Redwood State Park.

I decide to turn around. Chasity says I’m being on the “overly cautious” side, which is a polite way of calling me paranoid. She says, her husband would probably turn around too. She probably wouldn’t have. She also laughs and says, “I’d probably get stuck out in the woods.” I know Josh would have turned around, and if he’d been here, I would have convinced him an empty tank has 50 or 60 miles in it. We would have argued even as he turned back towards gas. I quietly wonder why I am the one filling those shoes on this trip.

We head back to the only gas station we remember seeing in Boulder Creek. We’re both under the impression the route we intended to go is closed so we figure out a way to drive way north and double back south into the park. It’s a 45-60 minute detour, and unbeknownst to us, takes us through the part of Big Basin which burned in 2021 . Of course we know nothing about this forest, it’s fire, or it’s recovery. We are driving blindly into the area on a remote-ish road in a rented Honda Accord with untrustworthy gas level notification system.

The trees are giant black tooth picks, with short, fuzzy green branches sprouting from the bottom to the top. Some trees are fuzzier than others, but for the most part, it is an aesthetic that is both strange and whimsical. The black bark tells us there was a fire, but the green seems to scream “but look at us now!”

We ride with the windows down, my phone picking up the sounds of birds and identifying them for us. We we make it to entrance, we park next to a ranger on her day off. She asks if we’ve come to see the growth since the forest fires. We confess we didn’t know anything about the fires. She tells us the heartbreaking story of her favorite forest, black and empty. She tells us where we should hike and where to go when we leave the park to compare the re-growth to a healthy and mature forest at Henry Cowell.

The biggest difference I notice, is the number of people we share the park with. Yes, there are burned trees and fallen limbs and barren areas that we can tell, once looked very different. However, there vegetation tickling our shoulders as we hike the now lush trails. There are Lazuli Bunting, Wilson’s Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Brown Creeper, Stellar’s Jay, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush. There are foxgloves. There are critters that scurry beneath the underbrush before we can identify them. It begins to get hot as the sun easily filters through the young redwood branches.

Henry Cowell Redwood State Park has families and foreign tourists, film crews, and a cacophony of clicking cameras. Forest Rangers in uniform roam the circular path ready to answer questions about bay leaves and banana slugs. There are signs with numbers that correspond with a trifold brochure of relevant information, giving me flashbacks to the 17 Mile Tour. There is a train just beyond the trees that rolls in and out of a resort (or restaurant) that we can’t quite see. We speak to a ranger who tells us the bay leaves we are walking on, are worth $10 an ounce. He tells us about local homes being made from redwood and how they are flame-retardant. He notices my binoculars and confesses we won’t see many birds because the resin of redwoods is a natural insect repellent so birds don’t thrive. Redwoods absorb water from the ocean air and the fog that blankets the area more days than not.

We do fill our pockets with bay leaves we salvage from the roped off path. We hear an eerie Egret. We watch juncos hop along the fences. We stand inside a colossal redwood and place our fingers on the charred inside. We do not see banana slugs.

When we leave the park, there is a great big slice of a redwood on display out side the parking lot. It has bronze markers starting at it’s first tree ring. The first reads 105 BC The Chinese Invent Paper. The next reads: The birth of Jesus.

This tree was older than Jesus Christ. This astounds me. I confess that I keep reading and hearing about these trees being thousands of years old but my bible belt upbringing doesn’t quite make the connection until I am seeing the savior of a nation, out lived by a slice of wood that is hung on a display like a crucified thief. I think of how these trees survived fires, and deforestation, and built a resilience against disease and have adapted to absorb nutrients from the air.

I think of Big Basin and how it has been reborn. I think of what that looks like: isolated, private, fraternizing with old friends who will likely migrate away when it becomes a insect-less sea sponge again.

We leave the natural world for civilization. Secretly, our hearts are longing for that boardwalk that fulfills a playful, rebellious, and juvenile calling. We buy “credits” choose the “ski-lift” as our first ride. It is a single barely-an-inch-wide metal bar that keeps us from falling down toward the crowds with their dippin’ dots and cotton candy. Once we are in the air, Chasity confesses she does not like it.

“I think maybe I underestimated my discomfort with heights,” she says.

I laugh and pretend I am not also freaking out a little. I tell her to look at the horizon, focus on what is beyond the city, and not what is far below her feet. We manage to complete the journey pretending everything is fine.

Next, we find the roller coaster that enchanted us from our hotel room. We get a seat in the back. When the ride begins, we are plunged into a dark tunnel, jerked and slung about blindly. When we emerge into the early evening, it feels as if the car is going to come off the tracks. The noise is a clacking raucous that triggers every bodily warning that death is near. It is over before we can quite acknowledge the fact that we survived.

I am surprised when, after we discuss how utterly terrifying it was, Chasity expresses how much she loved the ride. We buy ourselves dippin’ dots.

We walk to the pier where we buy iconic Santa Cruz garments. We eat fresh seafood and drink a beer each. I almost buy a skateboard because I want to take one home but convince myself it is not worth the airports extra fee, or possible abandonment at the airport. It is early evening and we learn this is the time that the seals pile upon each other on the beams underneath the pier. They are like slick fat puppies, barking and snapping at each other before fighting and falling off into the bay.

From the pier we can see the boardwalk still. Chasity confesses she wants to ride the roller coaster again. So we walk back, wait in line and manage to score seats in the front of the first car. It is just us, the wind, and the creaking wood of the fifth oldest roller coaster in the country (and our souvenirs stuffed in my bra). It is everything we dreamed of and we go to bed happy, with full bellies still floating somewhere near our hearts.

On Friday morning, I am greeted with my period as we say goodbye to Santa Cruz. I’m annoyed but I also knew it would probably happen on this trip. We have a reservation at the “Mystery Spot”. To kill time beforehand, we visit a botanical garden on a hill top. I’m trying to keep my menstruation from Chasity because I don’t want her to know how miserable I am. This trip is about having fun dammit. So I navigate to parts of the gardens that are close to the bathroom. 34 years old and I still care if I have blood on my pants.

After the gardens, we find an art center with a sculpture park. (I’m always looking for free places to linger.) Chasity takes a phone call from her mom and I see a utility building that reminds me of a Wes Anderson movie. I prop up my phone and make a quick video clip. Chasity doesn’t realize what I’m doing and paces in front of me on her phone. When I review the clip, it looks like it was meant to be. So, we make more Wes Anderson inspired video clips that I have no idea what I will do with.

When it is time for our reservation at the Mystery Spot we are pleasantly surprised by the establishment, it’s organization and it’s witty guides. We are convinced there is in fact something fishy about the “gravity” of the area. Example after example is drilled into our heads about how the mystery spot makes tall people short and makes water run uphill.

I would say that the experience is worth it except, there are two small children wielding sticks, who are not only interrupting the guide but are straight up monopolizing the tour’s time and space. The main attraction, a building where ladders and table tops defy gravity and the iconic images are taken, is rendered impassable because these two children run rampant and unsupervised. I get separated from Chasity within the 15x8ft building and never even manage snap a photo. The guide calls out that our time is up and I am quietly considering complaining that the group was too big, that the time was not long enough, that I came from over 2000 miles away to see this, and will walk away having felt short changed. I wish I could have had all 45 minutes in the building. No tour guide. No demonstrations. Just me and Chasity learning about the space on our own terms. Where is the imagination these days?

I’m not really the type to actually complain. I don’t think successful establishments take complaints seriously. Instead, I complain to Chasity as we hunt the premises for banana slugs with no luck. I talk my self out of a stuffed banana slug from the gift shop. Chasity lets me rant and agrees, but I’m not sure she shares my frustration. I tell myself the Big Foot museum will make up for it.

We eat lunch at a “Western Grill” that has Kentucky themed dishes. I order something that looks like a staple of the establishment but it ends up being covered in a honey sauce that must suffer through to barely eat half of. The Big Foot museum is suffocatingly small and crowded. I’m so miserable from cramping and distracting moisture between my legs, and the unjust tour experience, and the lack of banana slugs, and a wasted food at lunch, that I can’t quite register the information I am looking at. I am incapable of reading anything. I decide to give the owner a Josh Nolan sticker and buy stickers for his Dad who is a self-professed fan of the Big Foot conspiracy. If I can’t find my own joy, I’ll try to give it to someone else.

It’s finally time to head to the resort where we will spend the next three days celebrating a wedding. The drive is long, skinny, and winds relentlessly uphill. There is a point where I’m not so sure our car will make it. After a wrong turn, we manage to park in a crowded gravel lot on a hillside with steep drop offs and no back up camera. We carry our backpacks to our one room cabin. We are pleasantly surprised that our balcony overlooks the ceremony spot where the wedding rehearsal is currently taking place.

Now I must prepare myself for meeting almost a 100 people who will quietly wonder, why in the hell I have flown across the country to be a plus one. I wonder if they will smell the lining of my uterus rotting in my period underwear.


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