The small airplane shakes heavily before it lands with a thud in the middle of a huge rainstorm at Arcata Airport, a small city in northern California. I have completely lost my mind, I think when I drag my suitcase to the arrivals hall through the pouring rain. What am I doing here? Why am I spending half my travel budget on a trip that costs me four days, to see a stupid tree?
This 'stupid' tree is a Sequoia of a thousand years old called Luna. It measures about 12 metres around and it’s over 60 meters tall. It stands on a steep ridge on a mountain towering over Stafford, a small village north of San Francisco. Luna is the tree that environmentalist Julia Hill protected with her life by living in it for two years. Ever since I read the story of Luna and Julia Hill when I was twelve years old, it has been my dream to come here. I was a huge disappointment when I discovered that my role model Julia Hill had moved to Central America and the interview would not take place in California (although a tropical island turned out to be a great interview location, too.) When the interview with Alec Loorz unexpectedly was relocated to his family home in California due to his depression, I grabbed the chance and e-mailed Julia how and where to find Luna. That’s not easy, came her answer. Luna is not a tree you can just walk up to. It’s located on the terrain of the lumber company. A few times a year Stuart, Luna’s caretaker, is permitted to take care of Luna, but no one else is allowed to visit. My only chance is to convince Stuart to take me with him. But Julia doesn’t have Stuart’s e-mail address…
Who goes through so much trouble just to visit a tree? I wonder after the umpteenth useless phone call or unanswered e-mail. And still, I want to visit this place with all my heart. I am surprised by myself. Why do I feel such an urge to visit this tree? Where does that inner force to ‘meet’ a tree come from? It’s an intense knowledge, deep within me, that I have to visit Luna. It doesn’t make sense at all. In my head I am constantly trying to explain and analyze this feeling.
Finally, the evening before I leave for Los Angeles I talk to someone who can get me in touch with Stuart. And when I arrive in California the next day I find a surprising e-mail from Stuart in my mailbox: ‘What a special project. You are very lucky, I am planning to visit Luna next week.’ We pick a date to meet up, right before I realize that Los Angeles and Arcata are not as close as, say, Amsterdam and Paris. The real panic hits me when I discover that I have to travel two whole days and a night, taking 14 (!) different buses (that are never on time) to get to Arcata. My mind and heart are battling, alternating between ‘Cancel the trip, you are nuts!’ and that strange feeling I have to go.
I am nuts. But I’m going. And luckily, after my decision Stuart sends me a liberating e-mail. Did I know that there is a small flight to Arcata? I don’t have to squeeze myself in a bus for 50 hours. My mind loses one argument, my heart celebrates.
When I finally arrive in misty and rainy Arcata I can hardly believe my eyes after so many days of superficiality in Los Angeles. I see Tibetan prayer flags, hippies with rasta hair and bare feet, and advertisements for tarot readings on the façade of a gem stone store. The hamburger chains are replaced by small eateries for raw food, nuts and vegetarian food. In my hotel I am immediately invited to the annual community fair, featuring reggae music, DIY stalls and homemade vegetarian food. Yes, I understand how Julia became such a hippie.
The next day Stuart picks me up. Another hippie, in his fifties with short grey hair and sweet eyes behind glasses. He almost immediately starts talking and practically doesn’t stop. My poor, jet-lagged head is bursting. After signing the waiver at the headquarters of the lumber company and a short visit to Stuart’s home – a small wooden cabin in the woods, filled with drawers full of dried fruit of which he gives me a big bag – we finally enter the large terrain of the lumber company. Stuart points out Luna in the distance. It’s a big tree with an irregular crown. My heart is quiet, but my head produces a constant and loud stream of reproaches: what in the world am I hoping to find here?
After driving up on a muddy road, fearing a truck unexpectedly rounding the bend at every turn, we finally step out of the car. There is a road leading to Luna, but it’s overgrown with grass and bushes. Luckily it has stopped raining, I think right before Stuart accidentally whips a (wet) bramble bush in my face. Ouch. It takes half an hour of plodding through the bushes before Stuart ushers me forward, so I can ‘meet’ Luna first. And when I’ve climbed past a couple of smaller trees, there she is: Julia’s tree.
‘Hello, Luna,’ I whisper softly (while my mind questions the fact that I am talking to a tree). I walk around Luna and touch the rough bark and the soft, wet moss. My hands glide over the steel construction with which they tried to save Luna after a vandal tried to saw down the tree, a year after Julia left Luna. The surprising thing is that the lumber staff erected this construction, making the tree a symbol of connection in the eyes of many people. ‘Luna brings people together,’ Stuart told me earlier. He has also arrived at the tree and sits down resting his back against it. With a happy smile he gazes in the distance. And, so I realize after a while, he is quiet. Completely quiet.
I climb around the tree, the tree I have been wishing to visit since I was twelve. What am I doing here? Why did I feel the urge to come here? ‘You know,’ Stuart suddenly speaks up, ‘people change because of coming here. That’s what everybody tells me.’ I scramble back to where he is sitting down. ‘What kind of people did you bring here?’ I ask. ‘Someone writing a book about the holy places of California,’ he starts, ‘and National Geographic is visiting soon to make a special about Luna as one of the world’s wisest trees.’ So I am not the only idiot that felt Luna’s attraction.
The longer I remain here, and the more I quiet my mind, the more I feel the energy of this special place. There are no words to describe this energy, I can’t describe it, but it makes me want to endlessly sit leaning against the tree and listen, just listen. To what? My mind squeals this is all crazy, but my heart truly feels the energy and connects with the thousand-year-old wisdom that is rooted in this tree. And while I sit there I realize that this may be the most important insight of my quest for answers: that there exists a deep wisdom, a wisdom without words.