Meditations on the Tallest Things on Earth, and Drunken Boat Parades

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Today started off in the best possible way for any day, to wit, with a Bottomless Mimosa.  And Eggs Benedict, only made with slices of heirloom tomatoes instead of bacon or ham, which I can’t eat.  How can it possibly get better than this?

We discovered that the Secret Patio off our room – which is private enough that Roy thought no one else had one, because you really have to hike about to find anyone else’s – is surrounded by a small glade of California Redwoods.  Naturally, I shared my feelings on this discovery on FB, posting “Damn. There’s a redwood forest right outside my window” (or something very similar).  I instantly garnered sympathy from my homies from Texas, for whom “forest” implies thorns, impenetrable thickets, venomous vermin, and other highly undesirable things.  I’m pretty sure that at least some of them were joking, as I was.  But it’s hard to say.  Texas “forests” are not for the Faint of Heart.

Right after breakfast – where we exercised a truly heroic self-discipline and limited ourselves to one mimosa each, despite (or possibly due to) the fact that these were not your typical vile Brunch Mimosas, where – like a superior martini – the drink consists of a glass of orange juice (vodka) that is only briefly kissed by sparkling wine (vermouth).  No, these were maybe half and half.  Noticeable amount of sparkling wine, not a token splash.  The eggs were, well.  I can’t usually have Eggs Benedict due to a decades long disagreement with the preservatives in meat, which make me puke.  So this was in the way of a Special Treat.  All I can say on that front is that if anyone ever offers you a breakfast made in a restaurant that has a Michelin star, TAKE IT.

So after breakfast we hared off to some piece of quasi-public land that involved 1) redwoods, and lots of them, and 2) hiking trails.  A fortunate confluence of circumstances had us doing the uphill part of the hike on the bit of trail that had loads of switchbacks, which made climbing 500 feet or so relatively painless, and the wicked bit of trail that dropped 400 feet in the space of a half mile, on the back end, the downhill side.  I’m sure my quads and shins will be feeling that descent tomorrow, but not nearly as much as they would if I’d climbed that bit instead of the Kinder Gentler Approach.

There are several things that bear saying about these redwood forests in California.  One, they are TALL.  Really, they are unimaginably tall.  We hiked in the Muir Woods several years ago, and my primary memory of that experience is one of Tallness.  And Size.  And Age.  Today?  Yep, that’s right.  Tallness, Size, and Age.  The tallest tree in the woods we were hiking was 310 feet.  That sounds very impressive.  Even more impressive when you think that it’s taller than a football field is long.  But, in my experience, none of that really…conveys…the experience properly.  No.  I’ve tried to convey it in images.  Today, I made Roy go stand next to one and used my camera to shoot a short video of scanning it up and down.  I haven’t had a chance to look at that video yet, so I don’t know whether it will work.  All I can say is this: when you are standing at the base of a 310 foot tall tree, you can’t actually see the top of it.  Not even if you try.  Not even if you try really hard. Not even if you go stand as far away as you can without bumping into another tree.  The other thing I can say is this:  when you are standing on the ground and surrounded by a bunch of 250 or 300 foot tall trees, and you look up to try to see the tops of them, you know what happens while you are not seeing the tops?

You get dizzy.

Doing this makes you dizzy enough that you think you might actually fall over.   You learn not to do this unless you are one of the flat, wide, handicapped-accessible tourist trails.  Because doing it on the hiking trail, that looks like it was carved out of the kind of slope we’re all familiar with from Earthquake Disaster Films by a small herd of mountain goats?  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  I’m used to this, because I have Acrophobia.  I get vertigo if I go up a two-level stepstool and look at the ceiling.  So I knew better.  Roy, on the other hand, has an Iron Constitution, for heights at least, and tried looking directly up when we were peeled to the side of a cliff, a very Catastrophic Mudslide Waiting To Happen.  “Ooops!” he said. “I better not do that again.”

That’s what it’s like, looking at redwoods.

Hiking in redwoods is even better, because in Sonoma, as far as I can tell, all the bugs are warehoused in the vineyards, waiting to provide a nutritious diet for special birds whose poop will be used to fertilize the grapes.  This means they aren’t available to pester hikers.  Not even when it’s warm.

In Texas, going for a hike in the woods is something you don’t do without a hat (to protect against the blistering sun and the giant blood-sucking ticks), heavy leather boots and heavy pants (to protect against the venomous snakes, and the plants with 5 inch long thorns that will punch right through the sole of a sneaker or hiking shoe), a couple quarts of gatorade (to deal with the inevitable heat exhaustion), and that’s only if you’re not allergic to stuff like the fire ants or hornets.  In that case, you have to take along your health insurance cards, credit card (for the emergency room) and the epinephrine injector.

I am not making this up.

All the time Texans are getting our chops busted for telling Tall Tales, when in fact, we’re just reporting the simple facts on the ground, just where they lie.  When you live a place like Texas, embellishment is both superfluous and undesirable.  It’s “incredible” enough as it is, without embroidering on things.  No.  That, up there, is just what it looks like if you enjoy hiking in Texas.

Hiking in New England is better…mostly.  You need a scarf or hat (to protect against the Lyme-Disease bearing ticks), and hiking boots (to deal with the large and unpredictable rocks, and the frequent wetlands), and then the usual stuff if you’re allergic to hornets.  If you want to go for a long hike, multiple days, you also need gear to deal with spontaneous major weather shifts, like where it’s 90 and blazing sun one day, and 55 and rainy the next.

You also need Insect Control.  Roy does not have this problem.  He does not smell Pretty to bugs.  They do not bother him in the least.

I, on the other hand, and despite desperate attempts involving the consumption of large amounts of garlic and other odoriferous substances, AND the application of poisons like DEET, am comprehensively irresistible to insects.  I can’t go anywhere in New England at this time of year without having a cloud of them orbiting my head.  It’s really to the point where I carry a ginormous woven palm fan from Africa – by way of the Smithsonian Museum Store – in the car all the time.  We go out to hike, I wrap my head in a cloth to keep the ticks out of my hair, I load up the water, the hiking boots, the epinephrine pen, and I bring the fan.  And the entire time we hike, I’m there waving, waving, waving.  I swear.  We must look like some absurd procession from the British Raj, with the Swarthy Roy leading the way and bearing all the parcels, while the White Memsahib strolls by at a leisurely pace, waving a Native Fan constantly to avoid an Accumulation of Vapors.  In reality, of course, the Swarthy Roy is carrying all this stuff because I have health problems that limit my ability to engage in exertion, I’m all White because of the freckled redhead gene, and the fan is to keep the insects from clustering so firmly about my head that I’m unable to see.

I have a lot of sympathy for The Wonder Horse, who shares my exact feeling on the subject of Bugs.  And for the same reason.  Poor boy, this time of year, even with all the bug spray in the world, I bring him in from the paddock and he’s covered with a polka-dot of welts from all the bites.  He wears a fly mask any time he’s out of the barn, and has a special fly mask for riding.  And so do I.  I bought it in Maine, where they Understand About Insects.

I am happy to report that in Sonoma, the bugs are so participating in the Circle of Life that they are unavailable for pestering innocent hikers in the redwood forest.  I did not, in two and a half hours of hiking, receive one single insect bite.  Nor did I have to wave my arm about in the air even once to drive the cloud of bugs away.  Delicious.

We adjourned from the redwood forest to the regional brewpub, a place that supplies my local pub with several excellent beers on tap.  Having them right there in their birthplace was an experience to treasure.  The traveling time and distance really do make a difference.

Then there were the obligatory tastings, including one at this ancient hop kiln.  The winery is Hop Kiln, presumably named after the building, which is interesting enough that we nearly got in a wreck while rubbernecking the place during a mysterious Sonoma Bike Race.

Our original plan was to attend some nearby Belated Fourth of July Festivities.  A town, not very far away, hosts a Water Carnival of…substantial lineage.  I believe the first such event was over 100 years ago.  In present day, as far as I am able to gather from conversations with the locals and the best of google searchers, the festivities include a massive beach party on the river, with a band, a barbecue, and (presumably, because I know how this would go in Texas) plenty of alcohol.  That goes on all afternoon, and in the evening, the local volunteer fire department runs a bunch of major-league hose out across the bridge over the river and turns the water on, creating a huge sheet of water between the bridge and the surface of the river.  Patriotic Vignettes are projected onto this screen of water.  At some point – and it’s hard to tell whether the Curtain of Patriotic Water comes first, or whether this is going on while the patriotic vignettes are underway, there is a Boat Parade.  Involving “floats” that are constructed with varying degrees of forethought…and since the deadline for entry is four hours before the Parade begins, one cannot assume an excessive degree of forethought.  The directions for prospective entrants inform them that each entry “will have four minutes.  Provide a CD or we will pick music for you.”  I am not totally clear on “four minutes” for what.  The information that the entrants must provide music sheds some light on the question, but only some, and – really – only sheds enough light to speculate on the consequences of failing to provide the CD and having someone else choose the music.

As a Texan, it is not difficult for me to imagine what is involved here. Crowds, booze, probably a few fights, a handful of Serious Entrants, the number of which are absolutely dwarfed by Ad-Hoc Entrants with a Low Sense of Humor.  Ex ante – before the fact – I would expect that this Parade would involve a certain number of Entrants falling off the “float” into the river, and more than one Entrant actually setting fire to the float in the middle of some unspecified, poorly conceived performance, thus causing everyone else on board to leap off the float into the river.

I would be lying if I said this had no Appeal to me.

In fact, I find the prospect tremendously appealing.  Unfortunately, it all kicks off after 9pm, and I am totally confident that the traffic will be beyond believable, and that if we wanted to park anywhere near the festivities, we needed to get the car into position by 11am.  All of this, and I mean all of it – including the flame, waterlogging, traffic, parking, etc. – has been unintentionally verified by our innkeeper.  Therefore, I think we will pursue the Texan Approach of “let’s not, and say we did”.  Unfortunately, I will not have photographs of the event.  I suspect, though, that I will be able to find some appropriate material on YouTube.

Oh, look what google turned up immediately.  A video of some entrant setting their boat on fire last year.  How on earth did I ever guess..

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About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner Oldsmobile...it will take you right there.

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