Santa Cruz Stone Zone

We awoke in Mitch’s cozy pool house and he enthusiastically gave us a super thorough but very touristic route to follow through Santa Cruz, and even had maps printed out for us, which he made sure we didn’t forget. This guy means well, but was quickly becoming overbearing. We escaped as soon as there was a break in the motherly discourse, slunk into the car and took off. We decided that one of Mitch’s suggestions was a good idea, a nearby redwood grove, so we took off up the mountains toward it.
It was awesome, and the Redwoods were enormous as promised. I ran up to hug one and Aurelie got a picture.

The trail wound in and out through the feet of titans, and it was hard not to run into things because we were constantly staring up.

This one gives you a better idea of the scale:

Some of the trees were burnt out hollow at the bottom, which was becoming a definite pattern at this point. I had seen trees like this in Sequoia National Park, Big Sur, and now here. One of the hollow trees was big enough to walk into, and inside there was even a shelf carved into the inside. It was a perfect shelter.

When I first saw these burned out trees, I thought it was a shame. “That sucks that these beautiful trees are being destroyed by wildfires,” I thought.  But recently, I remember reading somewhere that the seeds of Sequoias and Redwoods actually need fire in order to open their seeds and make them viable. Apparently, this burnt out state is perfectly natural, and in fact, necessary to the life cycle and continuance of these trees. I can’t verify for sure if any of this is true, but regardless, I realized something awesome, standing at the feet of these gargantuan plants:

A lot of folks, myself included, have this idea of nature as this gentle, soothing, creative force, but we ignore or minimize the inherently violent and destructive force that is just as much a part of it. Animals are ripped apart and eaten alive every second by predators, trees burn up, people drown, scorpions sting things to death, baby animals are cannibalized, spiders mummify and suck the life out of their prey. And none of that is very ‘chill,’ or peaceful. Nature is constantly at war with itself, and that is ok. In fact, that is necessary to maintain the balance of beauty that we perceive.

This makes me wonder: is peace the answer? Everybody says it is, but we’ve never truly achieved it. Are we sterilizing our culture and habitat by striving for these ideals of peace and equality? Mankind have been killing one another since the beginning of time, and we’re not going extinct. In fact, we’re growing steadily. Some say, too steadily. What if ‘world peace’ is unnatural? **

**NO, I don’t want to have a political argument with you. No, these are not opinions. They’re not even statements; they have question marks at the end. They’re thoughts, and if you disagree with thoughts, then you are either Big Brother or the Catholic church. 

After this bit of pondering, I found Aurelie again in the forest and we left to go to a farmer’s market, where she hoped to find some work on a local farm. I spent some time wandering the downtown area and busking a bit, and we found out that the farmer’s market was not today, but tomorrow. Frustrated, Aurelie decided it was time for her to move on, so I brought her to the highway to “make some hitchhiking” as she says with her awkward French-Canadian accent. We said our goodbyes and I dropped her off on Hwy 1, returned and slept finely at Mitch’s once again.

——————————-Day 2——————————
I liked Santa Cruz a lot, but I was in exploration mode, and it was a small town; and I had seen most of what was there. The residents were generally young, aimless, and stoned, which was alright but makes for boring conversation after a while. Mitch’s well-meaning but overbearing nature was getting to be a burden, so I decided to move on to my next CouchSurfing host, Jeff, who was a student at UC Santa Cruz. The campus was situated just outside town. He gave me directions and welcomed me to come on over.

As the directions led me deeper into a thick redwood forest, I began to doubt I was in the right place. Nobody builds a legit college in the middle of a redwood forest, right? It turns out, thats exactly what they did. Sure enough, soon I came to the entry gates. As I drove up the narrow and winding roads, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in some sort of wilderness summer camp compound. The forest is so thick and minimally cleared around the buildings, that the quickest way to many locations on the campus are by unmarked, foot-worn hiking trails. You can literally mountain-bike to class. It was probably the coolest campus of any kind I had ever been on, and really quite surreal.

Things ratcheted up a notch when I reached the terminus of Jeff’s directions. I was standing at the mouth of what appeared to be a psychedelic gypsy encampment on the northwest edge of campus. 

I wandered further around the demented campground and wondered how the hell this was part of any school’s campus. Whatever is going on here, I like it.

I eventually found a small central hub building that housed community showers, a kitchen, and a common area with a guy absolutely shredding the blues on piano. I sat down and enjoyed his playing and introduced myself. There was still no sign of Jeff, but my new piano savant friend, Kenton, assured me I was in the right place, and welcomed me to “the Trailer Park.”

After some wandering, I realized that there was no cell reception in the trailer park, so I wandered down the hill a bit until I got reception, and gave Jeff a call. He gave me more directions which led me to another building deep within the redwood labyrinth, and we finally met. He asked me, “Do you want free dinner?” Like any sane man, I replied, “Of course,” and we were off to the dining hall. A quick sneak and fence jump later, we were treated to a full buffet of delicious food, much of it organic. I was well fed, and even scolded for leaving leftovers on my plate. “Don’t be a waster!” they said.

The cafeteria itself was a bit of a spectacle, being the staging area for a “Sexy President Contest.” Unbeknownst to me, I had arrived on President’s Day, and was unwittingly wearing my highly patriotic american flag/eagle shirt. This led to a series of confusing exchanges with students and staff affirming how “appropriate” my shirt was. I was starting to worry that they had caught on that I wasn’t a student, and didn’t belong here, and were somehow trying to convey this to me through veiled/passive-aggressive statements about my shirt. Thankfully, my frenzied acid-flashback thought-loop was dissolved when Jeff assured me that it was President’s Day, and the school liked to make a big deal about it.

Back at Jeff’s trailer, we sat and talked and got to know each other better. Jeff soon proved to be a man after my own heart, full of wild ambition and down for anything. Our conversation turned to mushroom-picking at one point, and Jeff was delighted to find that I was a veteran of the practice, being raised in hot and humid South Louisiana, where (psilocybin) mushrooms of all sorts grow in abundance in the wild. He handed me this book from his nightstand, which blew my mind:

Besides having the greatest cover of all time, this little book was an amazingly informative and practical shroom-hunting guide, and not necessarily for psychedelics. It covered mushrooms of all types, both edible, poisonous, psychedelic, and not. This sharply dressed, trombone wielding author has truly outdone himself.
Later in the bathroom, I took a moment to glance over the accumulated graffiti. The collective markings of several generations of budding weirdos and weirdettes covered the walls and ranged from perplexing, juvenile, insightful, to downright hilarious. I found this one in particular to be the funniest graffiti I’ve ever seen:

After our talk, I walked around the trailer park playing guitar and met some more cool folks, and fell asleep on the floor of Jeff’s bright blue trailer.

—————————————-Day 3—————————————-

In the morning, I set out to explore the huge and mystical campus. Jeff gave me a few points of interest, and soon I was lost in the redwoods, right where I wanted to be.

One of the first things I found was a big stick teepee with an altar of some sort in the middle. Despite there being a weird doll and other assorted signs of witchcraft, it was more interesting than creepy. Granted, it was also broad daylight outside.

Deeper in the woods I found the entrance to a cave. At some point, someone (school administration, presumably) had sealed off the entrance with concrete and rebar, but the intrepid student body had smashed back through it and even installed a specifically curved ladder. The inside was dank and musty, and too dark to take any proper pictures.

Next I found a tunnel under the road with a nice graffiti wall.

I trekked steeply uphill, following Jeff’s directions to the alleged area of a treehouse. I was not dissapointed. As I drew nearer I found that some students had beat me there. This wasn’t just some haphazard plywood between branches like I imagined. This was a bona-fide treehouse so high up that you could walk past it without even noticing it. In fact, I later found out from the students that I actually had walked right under another treehouse that was even higher up in a bigger tree. More on that later.

The structure appeared to be very well designed and not that old, but there was no apparent way to get in it. There were a couple of ropes dangling down, but it was probably a good 80 feet up, and there was no way anyone could just climb straight up that much thin free-hanging rope. These guys had apparently read up on knot-tying though, and improvised a harness that one guy (Zach) used to meticulously inch his way up. It took over an hour, but he eventually reached the top to find old newspapers, a bottle of olive oil, cooking supplies, and a bed. The tree house itself was hard to see and so high up that I couldn’t get a picture of it in relation to the ground. Here’s what I got:

After some interesting chit-chat, the dudes brought me to the other, even higher treehouse that I had walked right past. This one was even more intriguing. It was at least 100 feet up and had been rendered all but invisible. The bottom was spray painted forest green, and covered in hunter’s ghille camo netting. The guys said no one had been up there as it was impossible to get to, but I begged to differ. 
you can only tell it’s there if you are looking for it.
We propped a log diagonally against the tree to get me up the bare trunk, and once I got a hold of a viable branch, it wasn’t too hard of a climb. After about 80 feet or so it got scary, but the treehouse was in sight and there was no turning back. After a good 15 min of climbing I was at the top, and stepped out onto the platform. It was even higher than I thought; what I had estimated to be ~100 feet seemed more like 150 now. This particular redwood jutted out over the treeline, and I couldn’t even see the ground below. After some cautious pussyfooting around the platform, I determined it was mostly safe save for a few weak spots that were rotting. There was nothing but a park bench up here, though that in and of itself was pretty amazing, given how inaccessible this thing was. How the hell did they get this up here?

 I found my answer on the other edge of the platform. There was a pulley system securely rigged into the tree. I also started noticing that all points of contact between the structure and the tree were painstakingly protected by rubber, cloth, or the like. Very much care and attention had been given to make sure that this structure did not harm or stunt the tree in any way. This, combined with the inaccessibility and stealth of the whole thing started to reek of eco-terrorism or tree-sitting or something.

I looked a bit closer and found some interesting inscriptions on the bench. One was a complex math equation, complete with retort and rebuttal.

This one in particular caught my eye, being an obscure and meticulous Zelda homage.

Link’s Awakening, to be exact. If you’re wondering why it’s signed “THIEF,” you didn’t Zelda hard enough as a kid.
I left my own nerdy mark on the bench:

After sitting on the bench a while and contemplating existence, I decided it was time to come back down. The guys at the bottom applauded me, we exchanged numbers, and I was off to see more of the campus.

As I wandered to the south end of campus, I discovered that not the entire campus was shrouded in dense redwood forest. The front of campus poked out onto a beautiful rolling meadow that looked out over the town, and the ocean. It really was the most beautiful college campus I’d seen.

Later I ventured back into the woods to find their massive library. I hadn’t ever been in one with movable shelves, so that was cool.

Browsing randomly, I came across this perfectly offensive and incredibly hilarious book cover:

this man clearly has the best of intentions.

More wandering found me at another stick structure in the woods, struggling to figure out what it was. A tunnel to crawl through? A snake?

 Actually, it turned out to be a Banana Slug, UCSC’s mascot:

Eventually I made my way back to the enchanted trailer park.

It was suspiciously quiet out, and after wandering around for a minute, I saw this chalkboard sign:

I followed it’s very vague direction into the woods and found this door suspended between 2 trees.

Its bold proclamation was a lie, though, and I was just about to turn around when I noticed an extension cord running deeper into the forest.

I followed it for a surprising while, and after a few minutes and daisy-chained orange cords, I stumbled into the promised tea party.

Kenton was there, amongst other merry folk, and lots of tea, of course. Oliver, whom the tea party was for, manned a sampler and constructed beats from sounds we all made as we passed a microphone around the table. The process quickly became recursive; as we laughed at our absurd noises looping, Oliver would resample our laughter and warp it into the mix, making us laugh even harder which made for even more strange and awesome snorts and giggles for Oliver to record. He even recorded some of my guitar playing and soon we had a crowd-sourced tea party anthem.

A game of volleyball got going and I noticed a good opportunity for an artsy picture. Slap an instagram filter on this and we’re in business.

When suddenly, a dirt bike blazed through the forest! A fitting end to a bizarre and excellent tea party.

That night, I met JC, another trailer park resident and friend of Jeff’s. After some conversation, I learned that JC had a sitar. A real, live, legit, not-a-toy sitar. I beseeched him to take it out, and though he was a bit worried about the humidity affecting it, he obliged, and proceeded to play the hell out of it. I got to jam it a little bit too, and was pretty spellbound by the instrument. I want one.

In the time I had spent here, Santa Cruz had left an endearing impression on me. It was the first place to make my mental list of genuinely livable spots. And though my time in the town was absolutely enchanting, I sensed it was time to move on. San Francisco called to me on the horizon, and I proudly announced to Jeff that I had “big plans” for it. I wanted to stay there for “a whole 2 weeks.” Jeff said, “That’s a long time.” I laugh at this exchange in retrospect. Little did I realize just what “big plans” the Bay had for me…