tall tree
Off to See the World

My Relationship with Giant Redwoods

As we dumped our bags unceremoniously on the living room floor, grateful to be home after six hours on the 5, I noticed it still sat on the side table: the back issue of National Geographic dedicated to the giants. Though I’d read it, I hadn’t been able to toss it yet, for how often does a magazine feature your favorite trees on its cover? Not just any trees, but the largest trees in the world – trees that predate Christ, trees found only on your coastline?

They’re dramatic, those trees.

When we arrived at the grove of giants a few days back, I felt the same hushed splendor I always feel when in their presence. Too much artificial noise when you’re standing in the shadows of living things so much older and larger than you seems sacrilegious, like shouting in a cathedral full of praying nuns, then spitting in the face of the archbishop.

Yet I can’t keep quiet around them, either. “Did you know redwoods support their own ecosystem?” I said to Mike in the car as we wound through the hills. “Scientists think there might be undiscovered species that exist solely in the canopy.”

“Really?” he replied. “That’s incredible.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Yes. They even absorb water in the treetops and send it down to the roots. That’s why they thrive in foggy areas, like Coastal Northern California.”

“Wow, cool.”

He’s such a sport. 

It’s dark in the forest, beneath trees that tower above like sentinels, if sentinels could top 300 feet. Every inch of landscape appears in some variation of green or brown; bright branches, pitchy soil; leafy ferns, soft bark. Any moment now I expect Galadriel to materialize on the path with a train of elves following her. 

At this image my interior narrative points out what a nerd I am, and then I tell my interior narrative to shut the hell up, I’m not the only person who would conjure up Tolkien in such a place.

Mike and the friends we’ve traveled with are jumping on a felled tree that sways up and down like a catapult, while I attempt to coax them on a short loop trail.

“If you guys want to see the big trees, we need to take the trail across the road,” I say casually.

They continue taking turns bouncing on the tree. No one seems to hear me.

“We should go, before it starts getting dark,” I add. No desperation here, nosir.

Finally, like a kid who can no longer wait in line for the bathroom, I tramp over by myself and read the plaques posted at the trailhead. On one, I learn that all but 2% of the world’s ancient redwoods have been deforested. This pisses me off, and I mentally file away the information for later.

Walking back to the group (this time they’re balancing on the felled tree with a large branch, à la trapeze artists), I try again to urge them onward.

Bouncy Tree
No one listens to me.

I repeat this whole exercise twice before convincing anyone to follow me.

By this time I am nearly hopping down the path. Pointing out felled root systems that extend twenty feet overhead, I make Mike take my picture next to the monstrous beast.

Redwood Roots
Tree Roots

Then I proceeded to take no less than fifty billion pictures of trees in their various states.

tall tree
Tall tree
fallen tree
Fallen tree
Founder's Tree
Tree with human
Tree grove

I decided to keep the magazine.

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