Pete Rose and Shirley Felman were the only things that awed me when I was nine. He was a baseball superstar and she sat three seats away in Mr. Schaefer’s class. My dreams alternated between being one and kissing the other.
In Los Angeles then, school started the Tuesday after Labor Day. The week before, our family tradition was to take a vacation. That year, it was a crooked north route through Placerville, Lake Tahoe, and the Redwood forest. I had cousins in Placerville and got $5 in quarters a day in Tahoe. I did not want to go to see some trees.
But at nine years old decisions are rarely yours, so I climbed in the van with the family as we left Tahoe and headed northwest, thinking about Rose’s hit record and what I would say to Shirley on the first day of school.
We saw the Golden Gate Bridge which was nice but not that golden. I slept a little in the van.
I awoke when the van stopped. I looked out the window and froze. I forgot about Rose. I forgot about Shirley. I saw a series of trees bigger than my imagination. I ran out of the van. The first tree was twenty-six steps around. It smelled clean and thick and wet. I jumped and slapped it as high as I could reach. I ran to the next one. I climbed over waist-high roots and peered up to see the top of it.
Kris, Zach, and I pulled into the Avenue of the Giants. I put Zach in the Zachpack. We strolled along the quiet path. The trees were clean and thick and wet. I remembered a few from my childhood: one whose root system looked burnt out, but still sprouted green sprigs thirty or forty feet in the air; in my youth I estimated the sprigs were at least three hundred feet high; one that looked veinous and ridgy; and one that was felled, but still looked red and alive at its cross-section.
Zach screamed at the big trees and I turned to let him touch them. After about twenty minutes, he fell asleep and Kris and I talked about the big trees and that one time I came up here with my folks and we drove the van through a tree.
We got back in the van and I looked as the trees sped by. We stopped and bought tiny redwoods to plant when we got home. We drove through the drive-through tree and took the only picture from that vacation. I started school the next week and was too afraid to talk to Shirley. Pete Rose played for another year and a half. The baby redwoods we bought at the gift shop, died before we got them in the ground.