Ancestors- Human and Other

by Pam Montgomery and Mark Carlin

During these late autumn days when the fruits of our labors have been harvested and the days become shorter we turn toward the west to honor the season of our ancestors through the cross quarter day of Samhain or Hallowmas and the more ancient Day of the Dead.

We were blessed to find ourselves about as far west as you can go during this honoring time – the Lost Coast of California. This very remote wilderness area has only one village named Shelter Cove that we managed to venture into - a true paradise of sun, sea, rock, black sand beach and intense plant and tree growth with very few people. After lighting a candle and making prayers for our ancestors, we dined at one of the two restaurants where our elderly hosts cheerfully served us.

As one can imagine with very few people visiting this remote location the people who live there are thrilled to have new prospects for conversation. Our hostess chatted away and eventually mentioned she was from the eastern hills of Kentucky. My ears perked up and I said, “Oh, really, where in the eastern hills?” She said, “Paintsville” at which point I nearly fell off my chair as this is the town nearest to where my beloved Grandparents lived and where I spent my very formative summers as a child. Even now Paintsville is a small town so I could hardly believe I was in one of the remotest places in this country only to find a person who was from Paintsville.

Now if that wasn’t enough I told her I was the grandchild of Forest and Maxine Preston and she said we were distant cousins as she was related to the Prestons. Wow!! As the cool wave felt sensation of knowingness washed over me I could feel my Grandmother at my elbow whispering in my ear that no matter where you go your ancestors are always close at hand.

I gave thanks in that moment for the gifts we are given and the amazing ways we are shown them.

Pam in the Redwood Forest

With only a thin veil between ourselves and our human ancestors, we visited coastal redwood forests on our northern California journey. Mark had last been in their presence back in 1972, and I more recently, but not to this depth.

Ancestors of these modern coast redwoods extended across the northern hemisphere more than 100 million years ago (35 million years before dinosaur extinction), growing as part of a complex forest that included ancestors of present day sequoias, dawn redwood, cedar, fir, hemlock, and a variety of broad-leaved deciduous trees. Redwoods appeared on the west coast 20 million years ago, and due to climate changes around the globe from warm and humid to cooler and drier, California’s redwoods stand alone as the sole existing links to their ancient heritage.

Mark in the Redwood Forest

We barely had enough oohs and aahs in our entire bag of exclamations for each new view point along the hushed miles of pine needled paths we walked, each fern-covered fallen trunk, every fairy ring standing around the bases of long ago mother trees resulted in awestruck, preverbal utterances emanating from deep within the very cores of our beings, primordial responses of instinctual wonder, exclamations of “oh my god” the only verbal mantra that provided cadence to a mind barely capable of comprehending their world. The reality of being among such incredible beings, these ancient ancestors, these immense and unbelievably powerful trees, helps place ones’ humanness in proper perspective – though we crane our necks and lift our sight ever upwards toward their crowns, we stand only at their feet. Moving through these oldest of trees, up to 2,500 years, in an ecstatic state of wonder we realized how these trees were also our ancestors and to walk amongst them was an honor greater than we could ever have imagined.