Picture a forest thick with enormous, mossy redwoods and twisting oaks. A paved road runs through it until it gives way to gravel, which yields to compressed earth coated in redwood duff. This road gradually climbs and turns, reversing on itself, taking you up to the top of the incline, where you can see—if you stand on one side of the path and look carefully—a splash of blue ocean peeking through an opening in what is otherwise acres and acres of green.
Huge trees join together in a canopy streaming with light. A wide, wooden bridge spans a deep chasm with a creek snaking way below. Further down, a smaller bridge sits over a different section of the creek, low enough to skip stones and dip your feet in the cold water.
Hundreds of people use the forest every day. Dog walkers, power walkers, families on bikes, packs of athletes, and people pushing baby strollers make a steady human highway up and down the main road.
I rode my bike up to the bench that marks the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Usually I go with a friend, and we talk the whole way. But today I went alone, which meant I spent the eight miles thinking. And listening.
At first there wasn’t much to hear.
For one thing, there are few bird sounds. Birds don’t love redwoods. Redwood bark is insect-resistant, so there’s not enough to eat. Some smaller birds flit between the oaks, tittering and peeping, but mostly, the forest does not ring with bird song.
As I rode, my tires registered the different surfaces: smooth, almost oily on the pavement, then steady crunching on the gravel, and nearly silent on the duff. I listened to my breathing and the clink of the bike chain as I switched gears to take the next rise.
But mostly what I heard, in snips and bits, was conversation as I sped by. A trio of men jogging together were laughing heartily at some shared joke as I began to climb pass them. They wished me a good morning.
I passed a man and woman walking briskly: “…then you put it in the food processor…”
Two women pushing strollers: “…I don’t know why she didn’t tell me…”
A group of teenage boys calling to others ahead: “Hey, the coach said the main road!”
Thumping hip hop leaked out the head phones of a boy on a bike who was keeping just behind a young female jogger. A baby in a backpack shrieked. A little boy, pedaling ahead of his mother, giggled happily. On and on I rode, listening, moving, and listening some more.
My time in the forest was wrapped in a blanket of sound, woven of the threads of conversation, calls, cries and the steady sound of pedaling. And as I made my way, I contributed my own sounds to the experience of others. All of us were connected under the canopy of trees on a Sunday morning.