I had no idea that only five miles from Castro Valley, by following Redwood Road north towards Oakland, that we would find a Redwood forest. But here, Redwood Regional Park | East Bay Regional Park District, is the proof. Of course, these Redwoods are not nearly as tall as the Redwoods about five hours north of the Bay, near Humbolt, CA., where the Redwood National Forest is. The Redwoods up there are huge, the tallest standing approximately 380 feet tall and 26 feet wide. Once when returning to the Bay from Arcata, we drove those dark, shadowy and dimly lit roads through those giant trees trying to find the tallest, but we didn't. In fact, its location is a secret to save it from too many visitors. Instead, we saw trees so big and ancient that we were satisfied that it existed and there was no need to continue to follow confusing signs any longer if we were going to make it home before midnight. A person can get lost on those roads and never return. But, we finally found the highway south to home. At that time, I was convinced that the largest trees closest to the Bay Area were near Santa Cruz, an hour or so south of San Francisco. You can take an old steam-driven train ride through that forest.
And so, on our first night in Paris, I was surprised to hear Antoine talk of a Redwood Forest only a few miles east of San Francisco, in the hills near Oakland. After a day of flying from Sweden and taking the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport, walking a mile or so transferring between trains to subway, missing our last subway stop and walking at least five miles to our hotel, dragging our suitcases behind us, and after a two hour rest in our room, we went looking for a place to eat dinner around 9:00 pm. We were tired from a very long day. We found four sidewalk restaurants close by. We chose the pizza cafe, the closest, since we were not willing to take one more step than necessary. Antoine, our waiter, took our order and as soon as he learned we were from the San Francisco area, he said, "I've just returned from a trip there!" And we talked of the sites in San Francisco, Beach Blanket Babylon, The Garlic Cafe, Pier 39, The Embarcadero, Golden State Park, etc. He seemed to know a lot about the city. "The best," he said, "was the Redwood Forest."
"Near Humbolt?" Chris asked, "north of San Francisco?"
"Humbolt?" He asked, "No, I don't know Humbolt. The forest east of San Francisco, about one-half hour drive, near Oakland." Huh? Chris, who was born and raised here, and I, having lived here for twenty-five years, looked at one another in doubtful confusion.
"Are you sure?" we asked. Antoine was positive. We ate our dinner and tipped Antoine, even though he said tips are not usually customary in Paris, and we walked back to our hotel discussing whether Antoine had really visited the Bay Area, confused about the location of the Redwood Forest, or whether he'd simply studied the area on the Internet and was making up the entire story. We decided that he was confused.
A few weeks after returning home, we went to dinner with M and G at Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers in Oakland and the Redwood Forest came up in our conversation. “Oh yea,” either M or G said, “it's right down the road.” And, sure enough, not three or four miles from the restaurant on Highway 13, a highway we frequently travel, was an exit I hadn't noticed: “Redwood Forest.” We took the exit and drove up the high Oakland hills that are only a few hundred feet shy of qualifying for mountains, made a left turn and drove down into a forest of Redwoods just as dense, dim and shadowy as that huge Redwood Forest a five hour drive north near Humbolt. The trees are not as tall and have a smaller girth, but never the less they are big. And down in the deepest and lowest part of the forest is a small community of about 50 people, a post office, a store and houses barely seen here and there among the trees. “The primary crop is Marijuana,” G said. Besides being an intellectual, G is somewhat of a Pot Historian based on long experience when he was younger. He will freely admit that to friends. Apparently, that small community is on the Drug Enforcement Agency watch list, or was at one time back in the days. And did I hear G right saying that one Pot grower protected his crop with bears? Nah, my hearing or my short term memory must be faulty. Still, that little town is about as secluded as Tennessee moonshiners, and just as scary if you happen to be walking alone there. There's no telling what you may find there.
And so, it turns out that Antoine was right. There is a Redwood Forest in our back yard. Chris and I are confused.