Last Friday morning, while the Bay Area weather was still cool and breezy and traffic was negligible, my (and Shereen‘s :)) halaqa group drove up to meet at my house. We packed our picnic lunches and endless snacks, made sure to grab plenty of water bottles, waved fi aman’Allah to my ummy, and set off for Muir Woods, known as the “only surviving primordial redwood forest in the San Francisco Bay Area.” It had been an almost spur-of-the-moment decision, brought up, discussed, and arranged in a mere five minutes at our halaqa the weekend before. Because most of our group had deserted us for summer-long vacations across the country or overseas, the little bunch of us left behind (seven in all) were a bit baffled as to what halaqa-related recreational activities and academic pursuits to engage in during the others’ absence. We decided to cover the recreational aspect first. Someone suggested a picnic (who can say no to food?). Someone else suggested a halaqa conducted in a natural setting, somewhere outdoors rather than at the Islamic center. And some genius finally put it all together by bringing up the idea of Muir Woods, which the rest of us, sad to say, had never heard of, even given that it’s only about 40 miles away, located near the town of Mill Valley, only a few miles north of San Francisco.
The whole thing started out perfectly. We actually left my house on time (all together now, Whoaaa), and made it to Mill Valley without any mishaps. But once there, instead of continuing down the highway and around the corner and up the hill to the woods, the sister whose car I was following made an unexpected turn into a parking lot. Confused, I followed suit. Turned out her car had overheated. When we lifted the hood, we saw the coolant had somehow leaked out and sprayed all over the radiator and coolant container and engine. Joy to the world. Actually, mass worry was more like it. Even my “professional commuter extraordinaire skillz” weren’t much help. Then it started getting hot. Wayy hot. And each of us was wearing at least one black item of clothing (what is it with us hijabis and the color black?). Great for attracting unwanted rays, so someone busted out with the sunscreen, which we all applied liberally. At the end, we couldn’t help but laugh at the circle of overly-shiny faces.
We spent nearly two hours walking back-and-forth to and from the mechanic shop across the street, unsuccessfully scrounging around for ice cream at Walgreen’s (the national grocery chain whose parking lot we were melting in), munching on some of the picnic food, worrying about this sudden shift in plans, and negotiating with a tow truck driver to take the car back to the East Bay once he showed up and mournfully shook his head upon viewing all that technical stuff under the car’s hood. Amazingly enough, though, we remained pretty upbeat. The food and the freezing coldddd water bottles definitely helped, not to mention our self-deprecating humor as we viewed people’s confused reactions to the seven laughing hijabis chilllin on the curb in front of an overheated car. To their credit, many shoppers stopped by to ask if they could help. Good stuff.
Anywayz, the other sister’s car was a lost cause (in terms of our trip, at least). So what did we do, cancel it? Heck no, yo. We just piled into mine, and continued on our merry way. Seven girls crammed into a car meant for five. Wasn’t too bad though. Then again, I was chillin in the driver’s seat, so obviously I didn’t have anything to complain about. :D
So we finally made it to Muir Woods, and what can I say? It was definitely well worth it, and then some. So green and shady and tranquil. After wandering on the main boardwalk trail for about a mile, we walked uphill to where the path curved along the canyon edge, and then doubled back around a side stream, making our way back to the forest entrance. The easy, dirt path was an awesomely high vantage point from which to view the forest. And, subhan’Allah, what a view, yo. Most of these redwood trees are several hundred years old, hence the reason it’s known as a “primordial forest.” It was soo mind-boggling and humbling to stare up at these trees and realize how small and insignificant our own lives are in comparison. Many of the trees were gnarled with age, but most still stood straight and soo tall. It was interesting to note how age (and erosion?) had hollowed out the bottom portion of many of the redwood tree trunks, forming a niche strikingly similar to the mihrab, the masjid alcove facing qiblah where the imaan stands to conduct salah.
Little things, but they added up to nice big things: Makeshift mihrabs formed by hollow tree trunks. And the shady, enclosed area where we performed salah and conducted an impromptu halaqa and quiet dhikr session. And the fact that, for the rest of the day, all our trivial, worldly concerns just drifted away, so that we concentrated only on enjoying the moment, remembering Allah (SWT), giving thanks for our many blessings, and putting things into prespective. Halfway through our wanderings, one of the sisters groaned at the thought of taking a further step, professing great weariness. I smiled. “Think of Rasul’Allah and his companions, and the gazillions of miles they travelled across the desert during the hijrah,” I offered. “We can soo do this.” She grinned back, and straightened her shoulders. And kept walking with newfound energy. It continued that way throughout the day: ahadith, silent dhikr, Qur’anic ayaat, stories from the lives of the Prophets (peace be upon them)…anything and everything, and together it served to keep us in a constant state of remembrance of Allah (SWT) for the rest of the day. Because, you know, there are reminders and signs all around us, if we only choose to look for and acknowledge them.
In late afternoon, we drove down to the Muir Beach. Walking along the dusty path from the car to the beach itself, I looked down and grimaced distastefully at my dirty sneakers and pants. The aforementioned sister glanced over and smiled crookedly. “From dust we’re created, and to dust we shall return,” she remarked. My turn to be reminded.
A little boy, dressed in swimming trunks and no more than four years old, stopped by to show off his handful of jellyfish. He grinned, displaying his adorable dimples while carefully opening his hands to show us the jellyfish nestled inside. We asked him his name. “Aaday!” he announced, his little chest puffing up with pride. “It’s an African name!” Later, his brother, about six years old, cupped his palms and urged us to Look!, and we peered in wonder at the tiny crabs held fast in his hands. His name was Kumasi, he informed us with the same grave pride. Masha’Allah, such beautiful children. They just walked right up to us and shared their simple joys, brightening our day even further with their enthusiasm.
We dawdled as long as we could, finally leaving the beach and returning to the car in the early evening. Driving back up the hillside, we glanced over the edge. Miles out from the cliff, the clear bay met the unclouded sky, and it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
It was one of those days when everything just clicks into place. I don’t know how to describe it any more than that, and so I won’t even attempt to do so, because it’ll only end up sounding trite and clichÃ©d. So forget that.
But treat yourself to a beautiful day sometime soon. Your soul will thank you.