Ace and I did some of that. We sat silently among the giant trees, craning our necks back, as if looking up to the heavens.
And — except for Ace relieving himself on the biggest one he could find — we behaved with all the appropriate decorum, being the types (though I can’t speak for Ace) who believe nature may really be the holiest thing of all, and that man, to satisfy his silly needs, has messed with it far to much.
So for a good 30 minutes we sat wordlessly in a redwood grove, admiring their pristine beauty and giving thanks that, in a country that’s grown more environmentally conscious, steps have been taken to ensure these glorious giants won’t be exploited, and will be around when we who are just quickly passing through no longer are.
Call it curiosity, or sacrilege, or reporting — which I’m prone to do even though I’m not a reporter anymore, at least not the newspaper variety — but when we saw a sign in Leggett on Highway 101 inviting us to “Drive Through a Redwood Tree,” we exited.
Leggett is the home of Chandelier Tree, one of four redwoods in northern California that tourists regularly drive through because, well, they can. They’ve been there since the days when exploiting redwoods was something you could get away with.
The commercialization of the redwoods was well under way — and already controversial –when John Steinbeck and Charley passed through 50 years ago.
Around Klamath, for instance, you can find a drive-through redwood, take a cable car ride through the redwoods, and see a nearly 50-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan, with Babe at his side. We passed on that one.
In Leggett, though, we followed the signs, paid our $5 entry fee and went down a winding dirt road before crunching to a halt in front of Chandelier Tree.
I wasn’t sure my Jeep would fit through, especially with the cargo bag on the roof.
A tourist egged me on, telling me he was pretty sure I’d make it. I inched forward, having visions of my car getting lodged and becoming a permanent part of a roadside attraction that — though it had sucked me in — was against my (slightly flexible) principles.
As I slowly rolled through, both side mirrors began scraping the inside of the tree. Thankfully they were collapsible; thankfully too there was nothing breakable in my rooftop carrier, which was scraping the top of the opening as well.
But we made it, and I felt at once a sense of accomplishment and shame, for although I justified my trip through a tree by telling myself it was for journalistic purposes, the bottom line was I was just another sappy tourist, as gullible to gimmicks as all the rest.
Beyond that, it all seemed so lazily American — so par for the course in a country of people who, when we are able to tear ourselves away from our computers and go outside, commonly drive up to the windows of banks and drug stores, McDonalds and Starbucks to satisfy our thirsts, hungers and needs, all without exiting the vehicle.
What could be more American than a drive-through tree?
Nothing. Except maybe a drive-though tree where you could also get a Big Mac and withdraw some cash.