Amblin' Alameda: Muir Woods

Amblin' Alameda: Muir Woods

Morton Chalfy

We have a visitor to the family staying with us this week and he expressed a wish to revisit Muir Woods after a space of over 30 years. Accommodating as ever, we set out Friday (to avoid the weekend crowds) on the trek to the heart of Tamalpais State Park. It’s easy to get to the foot of Mt. Tam but a little trickier to find the road to Muir Woods. Directions like “keep going up” didn’t really help and some of the roads leading upward were daunting in the extreme.

When we did reach the marked crossroads that finally directed us to the park we still had a twisting, curving, blind corner road to negotiate and it was with relief that we pulled into the parking lot.

Friday or not, the lot was full and included two busloads of what looked like second-graders to me as well as tourists from all over the world, judging by the language snatches we caught.

One pays the entry fee and steps onto a boardwalk that winds through the grove and has off-shoots that climb the mountain and explore other aspects. We wimps stayed to the main, easy route and wandered among the majestic boles, breathed the pure and freshly made oxygen and marveled at the world as John Muir originally saw it.

Where he walked in stillness and wonder we walked in a thin crowd and the sounds of children and photographers. Where he could sit in the Chapel Grove and commune with the breathing soul of Nature we could sit there if we wished for a scant moment before other tourists wanted to usurp our places to use as photo backdrops.

Does it sound like a complaint? It isn’t. Would I rather have had the park to ourselves so that we could drink in the incredible atmosphere of the place and let its peace seep into our bones? You bet. But it’s not to be.

Perhaps the Rangers stationed there can have the experience in the early mornings and late evenings when the rest of us have left the mountain and I hope they can and do take advantage of those moments. We tourists are necessarily contained within limits and the best we can hope for is a moment of awestruck wonder at the scale and beauty of it all.

Far better, I think, for it to be this way and preserve the grove for present and future generations than to have it be overrun and trampled heedlessly into nothing. The other alternative would be to place it off limits to everyone and leave its appreciation to the birds and the bees. At least this way the children will be able to bring their children eventually and the marvel will endure.

Many of the wonders of this world are places that are best visited alone for maximum effect and in my imagination I see myself walking into Muir Woods a hundred years ago and being lost in its serenity.

As it is, even with the surrounding crowds, the impression the woods leave on one’s sensibilities is so strong that imagination can bridge the gap and transport one back a century with relative ease. Better to preserve the beauty and dole it out in drops to crowds of people than either to wall it off entirely or open it (horrors) to development.

That thought doesn’t stop me from envying John Muir his first walks through the woods.