We were children scurrying along the floor of a forest that dinosaurs foraged. The very enormity of the trees gave them away; the space between their trunks, just wide enough for the back and forth lash of a twenty-foot tail; the new, tender, bright green needles just high enough to make a sauropod strain its neck.
Through the high ferns I could sometimes catch a glimpse of deinonychus, an eye and a claw through the fronds, then disappearing back into the deep, deep woods where its pack lay napping in speckled sunlight, waiting for the Cretaceous to return.
There was another human my age, and we used our human hands to build forts and carve our human names into trees – the bay trees, never the giants, partly out of respect but mostly because the texture was all wrong. Huge crevices and valleys creased the bark of the redwoods, big enough to lose a whole pocketknife inside of, and any message carved would be lost as information even if you could squeeze the letters onto a thin plateau between ravines.
They say the bark contains asbestos, because California’s always had fires and the trees adapted by making their bark fireproof. They say the asbestos falls on you when you live in the forest, that it’s in the air and it makes you a little crazy.
The others on our street (our barely-paved human-path trampled into damp foliage by mere decades of cars and bicycles) could easily have been called crazy, and were by some, but the trees didn’t make them that way. The trees merely called to them, from their own dimension out of time, acknowledging the lost, the out-of-place in each of them. This world is busy doing something else, and the trees don’t understand it either, but they keep going, immortal, sentinel against taxes, laws, and human contrivances. They seemed invincible, the trees… protectors for the tiny athropocene mammals that burrowed in their embrace.
A mechanic, his favorite engine the one in the heart of an ancient Volkswagon van, easy to fix, easy like the era both the man and the machine were built in.
A jeweler, working with fire and rare metals to create shimmering visions in layers of transparent glass, each piece the dream of a paleontologist if it were a hillside, embedded fossils shimmering inside an invisible matrix.
A scholar, always the scholar, my mother, whose love of rare old books gave me the notion that old meant valuable and vice versa.
I spent days out on the cracked pavement destroying new coins with rocks and borrowed tools to make them worth more.
And the first human I ever knew who died lived there. He wore green and smiled a lot. Like everyone else there, the ancient forest was his sanctuary, but not from the stampeding future – from the primitive human past, the inhuman human that still told our reptile brains that it was wrong and shameful to love in certain ways.
Under the trees, no one judged any of us. We were all children, free to play beneath the canopy that shaded dinosaurs.