It all happened so fast I’m not sure I could separate the two even if I tried, so here goes: the Redwoods and San Francisco, forests made of different trees. Maybe they aren’t so different after all. Both live and breathe with a magnetic energy we couldn’t refuse, they teem with life in all its forms. They sit magnificent and solid in a world that swirls and changes around them, immune to flights of temporary fancy. It’s really something.

In both places, I find myself asking the same question: why and how. In the Redwoods, it’s an utterance of awe in its purest form—how could such a thing be? How, from a seed, could mass build and build and build to a being like this? I try to take a picture but eventually put the camera down. It felt as if I was desecrating something sacred and so instead I focus wholly on absorbing as much as I can, taking in as much wonder and mystery as my small human heart can hold. We crossed a footbridge over water so clear it hurt my eyes to see, we walked into a forest with a ceiling made of the graceful arch of branches hundreds of feet above us. We walked slowly, reverently, through a floor thick with sprouting ferns.

I wanted to ask why? because I thought those trees might answer. I couldn’t demand anything else but why—no other word came to mind—and I thought maybe that’s how people who truly believe in God as a person-like figure might feel in a church. Bowed to their knees by greatness, do they only want to ask why? Why are we here? Why did you make me?

That’s how I felt in the presence of that real and true and holy might, the only kind that’s ever brought me to my knees. But maybe that’s just me.

In San Francisco, I felt hungry—every street echoed with possibility, and I wanted more and more. I could’ve spent every day for at least one of my lifetimes, and maybe more, walking up, down and through those winding avenues. I fell a little in love with every bougainvillea I saw in bloom, every courtyard tucked behind a front gate, every view from the top of every calf-burning hill. Standing at the top of Lombard Street, one of the Frenchies turned and asked me, Why would they make this street? Who knows, I told him. But what a wonderful sense of sensibility! A curving turning street seemed like just the thing. We walked ten miles that day, through Little Italy and Chinatown, the Mission District and Union Square, and I couldn’t figure out how one city could fit so many cities into it. You might never know all the ways she could look. We took a boat out into the bay, where the sun of the city turned into a roiling fog out at sea, so that we were in a storm while looking back at what appeared to be a God-touched city, and my suspicions were confirmed—it was a lightning rod place. The kind you’d keep being struck by if you stayed long enough. I think I’ll have to just do that one of these days.

And like a flash we were gone, already, and off to Yosemite, where my heart went ahead and burst some more.