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Hug a tree for Valentine’s Day

Rachel Baron hugs a redwood tree. photo Evalyn Baron

Overheard at Big Basin National Redwood Forest: A little boy complained to his doting grandparents that his picnic sandwich bread still had its crusts. The wise grandmother countered with: “Jimmy, eat your crusts … in your life you’re going to have to eat the crusts.”

A heavy lesson for a little boy to learn, but a good one nonetheless.

My niece, Rachel and her fabulous wife, Alison Bond, came to visit for a week between Christmas and New Year’s, and among the things they wanted to do while here was simple: They wanted to hug a redwood.

So in this month of loving and hugging, I offer our adventurous day at Big Basin, where people come to hike and hug all the nature their souls can endure.

Let me start out by stating, I love my niece, Rachel! My tall, gorgeous, lively, artistic, and brilliant niece, daughter of my dear departed brother Richard and his lovely wife, Barbara: Rachel Baron. I remember the day she was born. I was in Chicago doing a production of Scrambled Feet at the Drury Lane Theatre and the phone call came that we had a beautiful new baby girl in the family. I was staying at my momma’s apartment, and she and I both wept with joy. I had a niece, and my momma was finally a grandmother— her first and only chance of being one because I had no plans whatsoever of having a baby.

I had enough trouble raising myself.

Which sets the tone for this confession: I was a truly terrible aunt.

Like all things familial from which I escaped as often as I could, I was absent for most of Rachel’s growing up. I lived in New York City, while she was growing up in Texas. I had shows to rehearse, and no amount of family pressure could make me miss a rehearsal or performance to go to any graduation, bar mitzvah, birthday celebration, or whatever else the family kept throwing inconveniently in my path.

I left New York visiting family dinner tables early with the constant excuse, “Oh look at the time … have to get to the theater! I used my work as an excuse to avoid deepening my connection to family. I always did and I don’t know exactly why, but I do know I loved being in front of them onstage, rather than among them at a family gathering.

In my retirement, I am now determined to make this sad history up to my niece. I want to be in her life now as much as I possibly can be. And so, two years ago, I made the effort of getting on a train across country and going to her extraordinary Brooklyn wedding — so chic and beautiful, so perfectly produced, so much fun. She and Alison were surrounded by 150 people who obviously adored them, and when the two brides appeared down the aisle, the entire group of 150 burst into applause! Few of us had ever seen them in anything but paint clothes and work shirts. They are both marvelous scenic painters and artists. So the apparition of the two tall stunning women floating in white dresses of different designs made everyone go crazy with applause. I only wish my brother had been there to see it.

One of our wedding gifts to them was a trip to come visit us out West, and the week between Christmas and New Year’s they finally used that gift.

Which brings us to hugging the redwoods.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park, about an hour and half outside our city, is a place to rediscover who you are or who you might hope to be. The trees; the hiking trails, some of which go all the way out to the Pacific Ocean; the sheer beauty of it all, are all elements that will renew your soul. You can choose a short trail, or much longer ones, depending on your state of walking health and desire to exert yourself. We chose a short trail and even halfway through that I had to go back to rest in the sunshine and write (which is where I overheard the little boy complain about his crusty sandwich). My knee feels great, but I’ve not built up enough endurance at the gym yet to tolerate long walks. I’m working on it.

The particular day we went — and hugged our trees — was a national holiday, so the gift shop and the snack bar were closed; you’d think that’s when they’d want to keep such tourist attractions open. The crowds had to make do with the sheer magnificence of nature. Enough for some, but I love my gift shops and was disappointed. That was O.K., though, because I loved sitting in the sun and writing.

The long and the short of it?

My gorgeous niece got to hug a gorgeous tree, and together, we made a memory for our future together. I will never look at another redwood tree without thinking of my beloved niece, and feel gratitude for the time we now have to enjoy each other.

So go to Big Basin. Make memories of your own. I hope the gift shop will be open when you go.

Oh yes … and enjoy your crusts.

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