Dancing on the Brink of the World: Volume IV – Seed

Let me tell you a story, from a decade ago, about the first Monterey cypress I ever came to know…

She lives on Bodega Head, nestled a hundred paces away from the sandstone cliff edge and the crashing Pacific surf just beyond.  I cannot recall my first instance of seeing her from afar, nor that inaugural moment of climbing up into her branches.  As the years and many shared moments have passed, my memories blend together, no longer discrete.  But I will always remember – always know – the distinct feeling of being in her presence.

I used to jog up the hill to Old Hespero, my dear friend, every evening to watch the sunset from atop her sturdy crown.  While a student and aspiring scientist at the nearby Bodega Marine Laboratory, whenever I had a spare moment I would gallivant over to my “Freedom Flow Fortress”, to free climb, read a good book, or just sling up my hammock and listen to the rhythms of this phenomenally sacred place.  The endless, steady chaos of the waves, the reliable blare of the fog horn every ten seconds, and the gusting winds that whisper through to shape her every limb.

Old Hespero is humble, withdrawn even – many visitors to the popular beaches and tide pools of Bodega Head do not find a single moment to glance in her direction.  But those who visit, those who see her, may witness a specimen for which centurial is an unjustly small word.

She is a primordial crone, a miraculously ancient being that has collapsed under her own gargantuan weight and yet then rooted to grow anew, layering into the earth and grafting onto herself too many times over the decades for a mere human being to even hazard a guess as to where her original seed first germinated.

She is truly cavernous, and a dwelling for many – a timid deer mouse in the hollow of a rotting stem, a wizened owl pausing to perch while on an evening hunt, and too many songbirds at roost to count, their chirps joining in on the orchestra of Bodega Head.  I, too, dwell with her, and in Old Hespero’s branches a kinship was forged, for me and a tree – the seed of a journey that lives to this day and beyond, in part at a remarkable place I love, called Cypress Lawn Arboretum.

The children of Old Hespero are now rooted, and ever branching out, to either side of the iconic archway of Cypress Lawn’s historic East Campus.  These humble seedlings may, with a bit of luck and care, rise in time towards a noble purpose.  They grow in the wake of veteran, and now deceased, cypresses that once stood for over a century on the very same patch of earth, framing the signature stonework of the memorial park that bears their name.  As I myself grow in the lee of this Arboretum’s true founding father, Mr. Hamden Noble, the seeds of tomorrow’s giants may now begin to climb for the skies, in the place where Noble himself thought to plant their predecessors, one hundred and thirty years ago.

I collected their seeds from the cones of Old Hespero herself, perhaps four years ago on a return visit to the headland at my harbor’s mouth.  Nurturing new life, the literal progeny of my most ancient friend, is an ongoing process of care and kinship.  This formative relationship of reciprocity with the natural world gives back to me, and to all who see, far more than our own humble acts of giving could ever approach.  It is this very spirit, kindled by the seed of my connection with Old Hespero, that inspires me each and every day in caring for the many worthy trees of Cypress Lawn Arboretum.

Each of the young trees we plant at Cypress Lawn, including the kin of my old friend from Bodega Head, furthers the rich legacy of our botanical collection.  These archway plantings, in particular, will help to ensure that the namesake native species that has defined this place from its origin onwards – Hesperocyparis macrocarpa – will go on to thrive and be celebrated, here at our memorial park for generations to come.  And so, the spirit and legacy of Old Hespero grows anew, back on Bodega Head and here in Colma too.


In these words, and in those yet to be written, I hope to share tree stories with you. May we grow together over the seasons, listening for the lessons of the wooden ones along the way.  They whisper on the wind, murmuring to us from a time gone by, in the infancy of my dear Old Hespero.  Can you hear her song?  Thank you, truly, for reading.


In from the West

A Pacific wind blusters

But here, on the headland

Set back, ‘midst the grass…


A shelter

A fortress!

The winds, they don’t enter

This place

Where both prospect

And refuge are found


Come forth! Enter!

For the secrets lie within

Old Hespero, how will you show

Us the knowledge of your kin?


In my wood lies hidden wisdom

Woven deeply, roots to branch

Trunk to leaf tip

North to south! 


Of the wind, and the rain

And all that remains

Of the headland

At my harbor’s mouth


Run swiftly!

Climb, thither

In my branches

Gnarled and wild


Stepping lightly 

Find your way

And let out

Your inner child


Winding, weaving 

In then out

Breathe on deeply 

Find your route


Suddenly… Aha!

You’ve done it! 

Sweet emergence

Wind and fog

Finds the climber

Who does summit

And sits atop my sacred boughs


Rest easy, soul to wander

Lift thine heart, ‘bove stormy seas

Feel my foliage, smell the breeze

Eyes to the horizon

And you will see