Decade after decade, generation after generation, people have visited the redwoods and found deeply meaningful experiences among the venerable trees. In 1917, when the soon-to-be founders of Save the Redwoods League first walked through a northern California redwood forest, they were inclined to remove their hats and speak in hushed voices. Redwood groves are often described as humbling, inspiring, restorative and cathedral-like. One particular grove, in the heart of San Francisco, takes on even greater meaning.
The AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park is dedicated to the millions of Americans whose lives have been touched directly or indirectly by AIDS. It is a hallowed place where people can come to feel their sorrow, to find healing and hope, to remember loved ones and to honor all those who have struggled and supported one another through the tragic pandemic. And what better memorial than a grove of trees that can live for thousands of years?
According to the National AIDS Memorial Grove website, “Its mission is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.”
A group of San Franciscans conceived of the idea for the grove in 1988, envisioning a peaceful place where people could come to express their grief and find solace among the towering trees, ferns and flowers. The National AIDS Memorial Grove Act of 1996, introduced by Nancy Pelosi and signed into law by Bill Clinton, made the redwood grove a national memorial:
“This official designation as the National AIDS Memorial Grove… proclaims to the world that there is a dedicated space in the national public landscape where anyone who has been touched by AIDS can grieve openly without being stigmatized, can find comfort among others whose lives have been affected by AIDS, and can experience the feelings of renewal and hope inherent in nature.”
The quiet, steady presence of the redwoods can be immensely comforting. Among the peaceful giants, I’ve found solace, perspective and answers that I sometimes didn’t even know I needed. Thom Weyand, a National AIDS Memorial Grove Board Member, tells a beautiful story of what the grove has meant to him.
If you’re in San Francisco for the Pride festivities this weekend, consider taking a moment to visit the AIDS Memorial Grove. If you live nearby, you could become a volunteer and help maintain this special place.
Like so many before me, I’m thankful that the redwoods can provide places that help to restore us as we cope with life’s challenges, and find hope and renewal.