Will Ye Go, Lassie, to the Highland Games?

Monday morning, I woke up with a desire to hear bagpipes. Typically, I’m not the biggest fan of bagpipe music, but I spent Saturday at the Stone Mountain Highland Games, where the playing of the pipes is as much a part of the atmosphere as men wearing kilts and tams. Even after we left the Games, the piping continued at the clan banquet Saturday night and again at the Kirkin’ of the Tartan on Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, as we drove homeward on the curving mountain roads and gasped at each new display of red, orange, or gold leaves around the bend, my daughter and I listened to an album of bagpipe music. No wonder I’m missing the sound of bagpipes today.

P1110832 (640x480)At any given moment of the Highland Games, at least one person seems to be blowing the pipes: between piping competitions, clan events, and official announcements, the bagpipe’s distinctive voice becomes part of the background noise. Bagpipe music is an acquired taste, and, for the sake of my hearing, I try not to stand too close. But when I hear songs like “Scotland the Brave,” “Highland Cathedral,” or “Amazing Grace” played on the bagpipes, my heart inexplicably rejoices. On Saturday I found myself falling into step and videoing a random band as they marched along the path that weaves through the village of clan tents.

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Clan event? Going to a competition?

On another occasion, as we munched on fish-and-chips and Scotch eggs while watching the caber toss and sheaf throw, I heard a band starting “Scotland the Brave” in the adjoining field. I jumped up, pressed “video” on my phone, and, recording as I went, ran to the field, where a crowd of spectators several people deep blocked my view of the band. It didn’t matter: it was the sound of those pipes and drums that I wanted, and I captured it, even though the video itself is crazily disorienting.

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Sheaf Toss Competition

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Toting a violin around all day is not for the faint of heart.

My daughter and I were attending the Highland Games at Stone Mountain for the second time. Last year, my mother and my nephew came with us. We checked out the clan tents and tried to work out if we were related to anyone, tasted the uniquely Scottish food options (haggis or Irn-Bru, anyone?), and explored the vendor booths. Planning to participate in a Scottish fiddling workshop, my daughter had brought her violin, which she and my nephew took turns playing at the Scottish Fiddling Tent. On Sunday, she impulsively ran the kilted race—it was such a spur-of-the-moment decision that she had to borrow my Nikes—and came in second in the Women’s division. This year, she skipped the kilted race (she needs to acquire a sport kilt for that event; yes, they make such things!), but she brought her violin for the Scottish fiddling competition—the first one held at the Stone Mountain Games in several years.

Jamming at the Scottish Fiddling Tent

Long story short: she won first place in the novice category! Her prize was only a small pin—at the Scottish fiddling competition at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, the first-place winner receives a large plate—but she also gets the bragging rights, which are well deserved. The competition requirements were fairly rigorous: each competitor had to open with an air and, after a pause, play a march, a strathspey, and a reel without a break between the pieces (to hear what she played, click on the links). She could have used sheet music, but memorization was preferred, as was Scottish attire; she owns a kilt in the Munro tartan, so she was in good shape there. While another competitor’s performance might have been more polished, he couldn’t touch her for technique, difficulty, or expression—not that I’m biased! She picked up a few things at the Scottish fiddling camp she attended this summer (on a scholarship from Clan Lindsay). Just before the judging, a lovely couple from Clan Munro showed up to cheer her on.

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Thanking Clan Lindsay for the scholarship

Whether you have Scottish ancestry or not, the Highland Games are an entertaining way to spend a lovely October day. As the Stone Mountain Highland Games website urges, “Don your tartans if you have them and come join us. No tartan? That’s OK too! EVERYONE can be Scottish for this special weekend celebration.” There is so much to see and hear: musical groups like Raven and Red who sing ballads or bands like Rathkeltair or Stonewall who rock the Celtic vibe; highland dancing, piping, and drumming competitions; demonstrations of Scottish weaponry; traditional Scottish athletic competitions such as foot races, hammer throws, and weight tosses. Exhibits on Scottish falconry, spinning and weaving, sheepdogs, and tartans add an educational aspect to the Games. The children’s activities and games always look appealing, and it’s such fun to see pint-sized people decked out in kilts (no pictures, unfortunately, but kilts and clan members come in all shapes and sizes).

This year, I went to my first whisky tasting. Confession: I’d never tried whisky before, so the distinctions between the different ages were lost on me, but I did like the 18-year variety best. Wandering through the craft and vendor booths is always enjoyable, even if I did succumb to the urge to buy a Robert Burns tea towel and a couple of tartan-related items. Later, we enjoyed a well-brewed cup of tea and a lemon bar as we sat at the Scottish harp tent (unfortunately, the harpists were taking a break then, but you can’t have everything).

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Sampling whisky (see the bottles in the lower right?)

Strolling through the large display of clan tartans is also a highlight of the games. The Tartan Forest backs up to the Scottish Country Dancing exhibit, so I was listening to the caller’s cheerful instructions to dancers as I examined the colorful plaids associated with different clans. Last year, I was surprised to learn how many names were Scottish that hadn’t sounded particularly Scottish to my ignorant ears: Bell, Carmichael, Grant, Young. It seems likely that I have Scottish ancestry, since people have Scottish surnames on both sides of my family tree.

IMG_0753 (640x480)My daughter is the first in our family to truly embrace her Scottish heritage, which comes from her father’s side as well as mine. When she and two friends visited the Grandfather Mountain games a few years ago, they were warmly welcomed by one of the clans, regardless of whether she could prove her pedigree. After wearing clan ribbons and marching with the friendly clan in the Parade of Tartans at Grandfather Mountain, she was hooked on the Highland Games. Now, after a second year of experiencing the highlands of Scotland in the heart of Georgia, I may be hooked, too.

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3:10 to Lucca

A recent post on Italy caught my eye: “A day in Lucca.” Even before I finished reading, memories of Lucca came back sharply–memories more than 10 years old that still contain the pang of disappointment and the hope of consolation. Flavia describes Lucca’s charms: the 400-year-old wall; the cathedral and museum; the tower from which the entire town can be viewed. But, for seven American tourists, Lucca was the town where a small dream died.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Our series of unfortunate events had its climax at Lucca. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

 

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Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Our day had gone well at first; we’d encountered minor problems like missing tickets and mystifying directions but nothing insurmountable. While visiting Florence, we had decided to give the children a respite from art galleries with a day trip to the tower that, by virtue of its architectural failings, has become one of Italy’s most recognizable landmarks: the Campanile di Santa Maria, commonly called the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Because my daughter was younger than the minimum age of eight required by the tour, we bought tickets to climb the tower in two separate groups. After a lunch of sandwiches and pizza at a cheap place in the university district, my sister, older daughter, and I began our self-guided tour of the Torre di Pisa.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Not only were the 600-year-old marble stairs slippery and uneven, but there were no handrails for the safety-conscious Americans. In the words of my daughter, who was 10 at the time, the bell tower was “really high and really leaning.” The amazing views of Pisa and the surrounding countryside more than repaid our efforts on the precarious ascent. Emily was impressed with her glimpse of a soccer field!

Photo by E. Fleming

Emily’s photo of a soccer field

 

Photo by E. Fleming

My lovely sister (Photo by Emily)

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Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

FH010028By the time we had carefully wound our way down nearly 300 slanting steps, I was apprehensive about how safe the climb would be for my adventurous eight-year-old son. His father had the same thought and kept him under close surveillance while they took their turn. Meanwhile, we took a quick peek in the Baptistry.

Brave little Julia waits while her father and brothers climb the tower. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

Brave little Julia waits while her father and brothers climb the tower. (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

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Halfway up the tower, my husband and sons wave to us.

The day began to go awry when we spent too much time in the Baptistry and the Duomo. Italy has a tendency to trip up inexperienced travelers (especially those who hope to learn all there is to know about Italian art in 12 days). Despite my sister’s efforts to whisk us past less important paintings and frescos, we left the Piazza del Duomo later than planned. Next, we just missed hailing a taxi large enough for all seven of us. Then, we discovered that all the tobacco shops were closed due to siesta, making it impossible to get bus tickets for a ride to the train station. Weary from our climb, we trudged back to the train station in the rain.

Duomo de Santa Maria Assunta

Duomo di Santa Maria Assunta

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Beautiful detail on the Duomo

 

All day long, I had kept in the back of my mind a special plan for the return trip: a visit to Pinocchio Park, which I had read about in Italy with Kids. This would be especially nice for Julia, who had been so sweet about not getting to climb the tower. Located in the mountain village of Collodi, this sculpture garden inspired by the classic children’s book seemed a lovely place to conclude our tour of Tuscany.

We passed the Arno River on our walks to and from the Pisa train station.

We passed the Arno River on our walks to and from the Pisa train station.

While the guidebook noted that Pinocchio Park was more easily reached by car, we could take a bus to Collodi from Lucca, which was a 25-minute train ride away from Pisa. Optimistically, we bought tickets for Lucca at the train station (wisely, my husband also bought tickets to Florence). As we munched on snacks, we discovered that the train left 20 minutes later than we had thought. The clock was ticking.

Once in Lucca, we splurged on taxis to the bus station, but we arrived after 4:00, and Pinocchio Park closed at 6:00. At the bus station a helpful girl, whose spoken English was no better than our Italian, wrote out for us which bus we needed to catch for Collodi. At last, we grasped the sad news: the bus wouldn’t get to Collodi until 5:42–and Pinocchio Park was a mile from the bus stop! At this point, two of us were in tears. Later, my eight-year-old wrote in his journal, “After Pisa we were going to go to Pinocchio park but we were to [sic] late. Julia Emily and I were sad. Mom cried.” My sister tried to alleviate the situation by buying drinks for everyone from a vending machine in the bus station. Clearly, the time had come to salvage what we could from the day. Outside the dark little station, we began to look around at Lucca itself.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Photo by C. M. Dennis

What we saw was delightful. My younger son had discovered a pedestrian path running along the top of the old city wall, which was at least 60 feet wide and 40 feet high. Despite the cold, many residents were out jogging or walking their dogs in the late afternoon sunshine. On our way back to the train station, we found a playground where the children went down the slides and swung. Was it Pinocchio Park? No. Was Lucca a far less touristy Italian city than any we had yet seen? Yes. We didn’t have time to explore the attractions that Flavia describes in her post, but we boarded the train for Florence with a desire to return to Lucca and its medieval beauty.

Photo by C. M. Dennis

Lucca’s San Pietro Gate (Photo by C. M. Dennis)

The arrival of a fifth child, the purchase of a larger house, costly home repairs, economic slowdown, college tuition, and busy schedules have prevented a return trip to Italy. Time has softened my perspective on the ill-conceived attempt to squeeze yet one more thing into an already full day. The words “Pinocchio Park” have become a family byword, a symbol of that elusive extra goody just beyond one’s grasp. Lucca itself has become synonymous with a glimmer of light in a dark hour.

One day, I hope that Julia will have an opportunity to ascend those winding marble stairs for a splendid view of the city of Pisa and the Italian countryside.

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View of Pisa from the Campanile

Note to the Reader: this post was written in response to a Blogging 101 assignment. All photos in this post were taken by my daughter Emily, my sister Christie, and myself. Please do not use them without permission. Special thanks to Christie for generously giving me access to her photos of Pisa and Lucca–and for being such a wonderful traveling companion in March 2004.

Dear Miss Alcott . . .

These dressses are from the Beth and Amy dolls that my mother made for me, long ago. The hope chest was made by my aunt.

My mother made these dresses, intricately trimmed with pintucks and lace, along with two “Little Women” rag dolls. I am grateful that she steered me in the direction of Louisa May Alcott’s books, even before I could read.  The hope chest, made by my aunt, brings to mind the four chests described in Jo’s poem, “In the Garret”: “Four little names, one on each lid . . .”

Dear Miss Alcott,

After years of admiration, I am writing to tell you how much I have enjoyed your books–especially Little Women (like so many of your fans) and its sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.  On first reading Little Women at the age of eight, I was delighted with the frills and trappings of the nineteenth century: I longed to live in the time of petticoats and gloves, calling cards and carriages. But I was even more pleased to make the acquaintance of the four March sisters, who were bickering (as sisters are wont to do) about how to celebrate Christmas when you introduced them to me.

As a child, I loved all things "Little Women"--paper dolls, dolls, movies. Here are Madame Alexander's doll versions of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

As a child, I loved all things “Little Women”–paper dolls, movies, and my precious Madame Alexander dolls.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–they were as different from one another as four sisters could be, in both appearance and personality. Many nuances were beyond my understanding on that first reading. For years, I did not realize that the book given by Marmee to each daughter at Christmas was Pilgrim’s Progress, and I failed to appreciate how cleverly you used Christian’s journey as a parallel for the lessons that each of the March girls was learning.  Later, I grasped that the war taking Mr. March away from his family was the Civil War that I had learned about in school. My ignorance notwithstanding, the ambitions of the four sisters nourished my own ambitions: was I going to be a great writer, a great pianist, or a great artist, I wondered, as I built my castle in the clouds along with the March girls.

In 2011, I paid a visit to Orchard House, which is a National Historic Site.

In 2011, my family and I visited Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. Bronson and Abigail May Alcott moved to Orchard House with daughters Anna, Louisa, and May in 1858. Another daughter, Elizabeth, the model for “Beth,” died shortly before they moved to the home that would be the final residence for Bronson, Abigail, and Louisa.

Miss Alcott, as I read and re-read your books, the disappointments of the March girls became my disappointments. I watched with horror as Amy was punished for bringing limes to class and, later, burned Jo’s manuscript in a fit of pique; I sympathized with Meg’s longing for finery, Jo’s disappointment when Aunt March chose Amy for her European traveling companion, Beth’s fear of Mr. Laurence, and Amy’s realization that her talent was not genius. Their joys were also my joys, as Meg gave birth to twins, Amy and Laurie comforted one another after Beth’s death, and Jo finally found romance with the impoverished but lovable Professor Bhaer. Even after the three surviving sisters became women–strong, compassionate women, who coped with single parenthood, founded schools, and helped struggling artists–I loved to read about them. Again, layers of meaning escaped me, such as references to Goethe and Schiller or to Greek mythologybut it is a tribute to the richness of your books that I gleaned something new with every reading.P1010235

Like you, Miss Alcott, I am one of four sisters. Longing to be pretty and artistic, I initially identified with Amy, whose character was loosely based on your sister May. In time, I came to prefer Jo, your fictional counterpart, who poured herself into her writing, who put her interests aside to help her family, who could not perceive her own beauty, who struggled to rejoice when good things happened to her sisters.

Unlike you, I have never been called upon to sacrifice and toil for my family, as you did from your teen years. Indeed, without your tireless writing or the kindness of family friends such as Mr. Emerson, your family might have fared poorly.  When I read the book Marmee and Louisa,  a gift from my youngest sister, it seemed to me that your parents held you to a very high standard indeed and chided you for your failings less gently than they might have. But, rather than complaining, you used your talents to improve your family’s fortunes, and you endeavored to apply your parents’ criticisms.

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Orchard House is a museum today, open for guided tours. Louisa wrote most of her books here, often wearing a “scribbling suit” like Jo’s.

I feel, Miss Alcott, that your personal striving towards humility, selflessness, industry, and compassion communicates itself to your readers. I do not mean to imply that your primary purpose in writing Little Women was didactic: as I understand it, your publisher wanted you to write a book for girls because he thought it would sell well. (He was right.)  In writing about a way of life that you knew intimately and about the family that you loved, however, you created a world that has attracted and influenced generations of young girls. Even as your readers delight in the comic adventures and heartbreaking tragedies of the March girls, they are seeing examples of kindness, courage, and–dare I say it, in the age of the selfie?–modesty.

No matter how old I grow, Miss Alcott, I never tire of reading Little Women.  As recently as 2007, your best-selling classic inspired The Mother-Daughter Book Club, a novel for young adults set in modern-day Concord, Massachusetts.  An Old-Fashioned Girl–which contrasts the life of the hardworking poor girl with the frivolous rich girl–was also one of my childhood favorites, and I enjoyed your books about the orphan, Rose, and her cousins (Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom).

Although your own life, sadly, was filled with hardship, loss, poor health, and personal disappointment, it may be some small consolation to know that you have brought a great deal of joy to a little girl growing up in the late twentieth century.

With the deepest respect,

A Devoted Reader

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From 1845 to 1848, the Alcotts lived in this Concord home, Hillside, where Louisa had her own room and wrote her first book. Later, they purchased and renovated the home on adjoining property, which they christened Orchard House.  In 1849, Nathaniel Hawthorne purchased Hillside and renamed it The Wayside.

This plaque at the Wayside (originally named Hillside by Bronson Alcott) tells about the house's history as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

This plaque at The Wayside (called Hillside by the Alcotts) tells about the house’s history as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Two fugitive slaves stayed here in the winter of 1846-1847. Today, The Wayside is part of Minute Man National Historical Park.

Time Travel, Lincoln, and Goats

Last week I had the opportunity to do some time travelling, an occupation usually reserved for science fiction. My husband, youngest son, and I visited Connemara, Carl Sandburg’s home in Flat Rock, North Carolina, which was like walking back into the world of 1967, complete with calendars. IMG_2373When Sandburg died in 1967, his wife and daughter moved to Asheville, leaving almost everything in the house — even the cigarette butts, according to our docent.  My perspective on 1967 was that of a four-year-old, but mingled with my memories of mimosa trees and my omnipotent older brother are corded telephones, linoleum floors, a television set with legs, and Danish modern furniture.  These metal lawn chairs outside the bookstore reminded me so vividly of the long-gone green chairs on my parents’ concrete patio that I caught my breath.IMG_2396

The history of the house itself was more interesting than I had expected. Built in the 1830s by Christopher Memminger, a Charleston lawyer, the house — which he called Rock Hill — was used as a hide-out during the Civil War, when Memminger’s Charleston property was seized and he, as Secretary of the Treasury of the Confederate States of America, was a fugitive.  As pictured below, this long slit in the dining room wall was made by Memminger so that he could stick the barrel of a gun through it and frighten off would-be marauders; the dining room was downstairs, presumably so that it would be closer to the outdoor kitchen. Fortunately, no raiders ever appeared, but the intriguing hole remains — presumably, they found a way to block it in the winter. Our guide chuckled at the irony that Sandburg, Lincoln’s best-known biographer, bought a house that had been built by a slave-owner and officer in the CSA. There are even rumors that the seal of the CSA was once hidden atop Glassy Mountain!

IMG_2395The next inhabitants, the Smyths, were also from Charleston, but they used the house as a year-round residence and named it Connemara to honor their Irish ancestry.  In 1945, Lilian Sandburg bought the house and its 264 acres because she was looking for a place where she could raise her growing herd of Chikaming goats and where Carl could write. And she found it!  At Connemara, Sandburg produced about a third of his total output, while Lilian’s herds went on to win numerous prizes. He also read a great deal, judging by the number of books in the house: apparently, the Sandburgs shipped an entire boxcar of books from Michigan to North Carolina when they moved. Bookshelves lined the walls of the two main floors of the house. (Workers regularly clean the books to minimize silverfish damage.)

In the first room, IMG_2363we saw a large piano (played primarily by the Sandburgs’ oldest daughter, Margaret) and a guitar, which Carl played. Andres Segovia was a fan of his and even wrote a piece in honor of Sandburg — which, if I heard correctly, was too challenging for Sandburg to play; Segovia’s sheet music was available for purchase in the bookstore.IMG_2365

Lilian Sandburg’s brother, Edward Steichen, was a well-known photographer in his time. His photos are hung throughout the Sandburg home, including this one in the front room: “Isadora Duncan in the Parthenon, Athens.”

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A life mask of Sandburg sits on the shelf in his office.

A bibliophile himself, even my husband was impressed with the number of books amassed by the Sandburgs, who left more than 11,000 books in the house.

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Living in an antebellum home, the Sandburgs were aware of the dangers of fire, given their extensive library, and had a professional-grade fire hose installed on the wall of the stairwell.

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IMG_2379Pictured on the left is one of the many television sets in the Sandburg house — another irony, since Sandburg felt that television was a thief of time. The president of Zenith was his admirer, however, and more than once bestowed televisions upon the Sandburg household. There were televisions in the bedrooms, too, along with furniture reminiscent of the twin beds in my childhood room and a treadle sewing machine that reminded my husband of his grandmother’s machine. To avoid distractions, Sandburg preferred to write in an attic room without a view.

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While the kitchen seems antiquated now, it, too, was representative of its time. My husband was forcefully reminded of his Aunt Rosabelle’s kitchen in South Carolina, which was probably updated around the same time as the Sandburgs’.

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Although my husband and I were fascinated by the house, my son was delighted when we finally emerged from its musty interior into the afternoon sunlight. After a quick stroll through the outbuildings near the house, we headed on to the Goat Barn, where David happily interacted with the young goats; the billy goats were sequestered on the other side of the road.

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Nowadays, the goats — which are descendants of the prize-winning herd that Lilian (or “Paula,” as Sandburg affectionately called her) developed — have a fairly carefree existence, tended by the National Park workers; back in the day, however, Lilian worked tirelessly to breed a goat that would produce the maximum amount of milk, finally resulting in Jennifer II. Amusingly, the Sandburgs became involved with goats when one of their daughters wanted a pet cow: they talked her into a goat instead.

Playing with the goats was David’s favorite part of the trip. I do think that I will read some of Sandburg’s poetry to him in the next couple of weeks, and perhaps we will embark on Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, which I vaguely remember from my childhood.

David was sad that we didn’t see water snakes by the dam as we crossed over the pond at the entrance to the Carl Sandburg Home — on our previous visit, several snakes had been sunning themselves — but he and his father enjoyed seeing some brim swim past (no fishing was allowed, however). Next summer, we’ll have to be on the watch for the free productions put on at the ampitheater!

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All photos in this post were taken by Sandra Fleming (on her iPhone, because she left her better camera at home). Click here for a virtual tour of Connemara, courtesy of the National Park Service.

Here are the snakes that we saw from the safety of the bridge on our first visit to Connemara:

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I Think They All Should Be California Trees

Having passed the half-century mark myself, I was recently privileged to view some trees that are a lot older than I am. The old-growth, coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument range mostly from 500 to 800 years in age, with the oldest tree being at least 1,200 years old. (We didn’t notice which tree WAS the oldest on our recent afternoon tour.)

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These aren’t the drive-through redwoods: you have to go farther inland to see those tremendously wide trees.  But the beautiful quality of light streaming through the umbrella-like upper branches of the trees in Muir Woods more than repaid the effort it took to get there. Actually, it took considerable effort: first, we had to rent a car and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we’d driven the curvy roads to the monument itself, we were dismayed to realize that a lot of other folks had had the same idea. Not only were the smallish official lot AND the large overflow parking lot full, but parking on the shoulder of the road went on for more than half a mile past the parking lot itself.  In the end, our car was parked nearly a mile from the official lot.

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But it was still a golden afternoon–golden and green. The weather was amazingly temperate in the woods: sunny without making us hot, breezy without making us cold. Despite the number of visitors, we never felt crowded as we slowly walked along the old trails, frequently pausing to look up at the branches above us. My youngest son was delighted when, near the end of the main loop trail, we noticed a cluster of people quietly watching some activity on the wooded area above the trail. Sure enough, a doe and her fawn were placidly eating, undisturbed by the audience they were attracting.

P1060292P1060282My husband wisely advocated that we take the Hillside Trail, which seemed less popular with the masses. Although it was not suitable for strollers, we saw a couple of men with two toddlers and a large stroller, gamely tackling the steep dirt paths. My sympathies were with the young kids, who were actually helping one of the men lift the stroller over some roots; for whatever reason, the other man was not helping at all. On the Hillside Trail, we found a couple of trees with an opening large enough to stand in.  Leafy ferns and thick patches of enormous clover bordered the paths, and, again and again, we marvelled at the glorious quality of the light streaming through the leaves and all around us.

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If I lived in San Francisco, I would try to visit the Muir Woods often.  There were trails that we did not have time to take: Muir Beach, where we stopped to eat a picnic lunch, is not far away, and one tantalizing trail led to a vista of the sea. Evidently, it rains quite a bit in the Muir Woods in the winter, but my husband thought even that would be something to see. For now, we will treasure our memories of a quiet walk through the gentle giants of coastal California.