If you’re wondering what a picture of trillium is doing in the RedwoodsRUs section, there’s a reason. These lovely things were the first thing I saw when I got out of the car at the trailhead parking area. It’s the only place I saw trilliums anywhere I wandered that morning on the paths through the Great Trees. That has its significance, of which more later.
So, quite the show. The first thing you come to when you enter the Byway from the south as I did is the Big Tree trailhead. Now I grant you, “Big Tree” doesn’t show any particular pizzazz in the naming department, but however basely utilitarian the name may be it cannot be faulted for inaccuracy or hyperbole. Redwoods being the rock stars they rightly are, there’s even a website that gives you the skinny on Big Tree (webpage here), to wit:
When you’re standing in front of it, 15th largest doesn’t mean very much, to be honest. After a certain point there isn’t any bigger than big. But man’s penchant for the tallest, widest, deepest, etc. etc. knows no bounds, so the redwoods have had the bejeezus measured out of them. Apparently the tallest redwood — to which you can’t drive in a sedan 🙂 — is Hyperion, to wit:
Hyperion, the world’s tallest living tree
The tallest tree in the world is a coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), named Hyperion after a person in Greek mythology. The tree is no less than 115.72 m (379.7 feet) tall! This enormous tree was discovered only in August 2006 in a remote part of Redwood National Park, California by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor. Their first preliminary measurements were done with professional laser measurement equipment based on goniometry. In September 2006 the tree was remeasured by Steve Sillett. This was done in the most accurate way: he climbed to the top of the tree to drop a tape from there straight to the ground. This tape drop was filmed for National Geographic.
In July 2006 some other record tall trees were discovered: “Helios” (named after the Greek God of the sun), the world’s tallest known tree as of June 2006 (114.09 m), “Icarus” (113.14 m), and “Daedalus” (110.76 m).
That means the tallest redwood is over 100 ft. taller than Big Tree. I can’t imagine it, to be honest. I couldn’t even see the top of Big Tree. How would I be able to perceive the top of a specimen a hundred feet taller? It’s all a bit deflating in the end effect. And anyway, I’ve never been a size queen. 🙂
So on to the confession since I don’t have a redwood rhapsody to strum for you. Being around the redwoods was a peak experience and encountering their beingness was something I’ll never forget. They are mind-boggling. They are also so entirely divorced from human scale that they have the impersonality of skyscrapers. One can do nothing but stand and be overawed. The only part of the tree within reach of human touch has been dead for hundred of years — everything alive about the trees is so far up it’s barely visible. This curious circumstance resulted in my feeling that the trees were “vacant” for lack of a better term. Their treeness was not tangibly present as a living being is tangible. Trees are people, too — they have a presence about them and many of them give off fragrances (for example grand fir, a scent I’d be happy to wallow in all the day long). Whatever life the redwoods have is buried so deep within them or sits so high up out of perceptible range that the trees seem to me in some kind of Zen state of suspended animation — holding their breath in a great “OM” as it were.
Which is complete bollocks, of course — my impressions and the reality of Sequoia sempervirens have no causal link at all. I’m used to being overawed by mountain ranges or vast lakes but not by TREES for heaven’s sake. Yet that’s the effect the redwoods have on me: to leave me stunned. It’s an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. But I can’t imagine living among redwoods. I’d go into a sulk in no time flat with company like that.
I put the pic of the trilliums sporting their blossoms so jauntily at the roadside because you’ll see no flowers wandering in the redwood forest. Think about it: redwoods are a climax species. It is the purview of climax species to rule the roost and keep other things from growing in competition. Our big trees have that part figured out to a T. The only thing that grows as understorey is ferns for the greater part, once in a while where a bit of light filters down to the forest floor you come across a bit of wood sorrel, which is the clover-like plant in one of the pics. You will find no trilliums, no skunk cabbage, no rhododendrons — it’s too dark for anything like that to survive.
How dreary. That’s the feeling that overcame me after recuperating my wits from the shock of experiencing the redwoods’ size. They are the only game in town. I hadn’t thought of that, being used to trees that always play nicely with other species. Not so the redwoods. They’re like Big Bertha coming in and squeezing everybody else out of the playpen. One might even say their moms didn’t raise them right — they never learned to share.
The upshot of this cascade of awareness and experience was that I did my walk on the Big Tree trail and then got in my car and headed for the seacoast. Yes siree. I wanted LIGHT. I wanted COLOR. It became abundantly clear I wasn’t going to get either of those commodities in the redwood forest, so I followed my heart and hightailed it outta there.
On the way out I stopped at the visitor center — on the edge of an open field apparently useful on occasion for viewing wild elk (thank God none were about when I was there). I found a lovely little bench for a sit-down while I soaked in the sight of the green field and the hills in the sunshine.
By the way, my departure from the Park was hastened by the odd chance of coming across a huge redwood that had fallen across one of the paths — you see it in the pics of the downed tree. I remembered things I had read in the past about loggers wasting huge quantities of trees because they shattered into bits when they were felled. The wood is like cedar — straight-grained and brittle. When a stick of that size and weight hits the ground it’s like an airplane crashing. What a nightmare. Better not to think about it …
After my brief sit-down on that lovely bench I needed an antidote for the redwood trance. What better place to find it than on the seaside, where the eternally restless ocean keeps things changing with every second? So off I went like a shot to Richards Point State Park, just a few miles south on the road back to Arcata. Man, what a find that was. Light! Color! Flowers! Trees! Ocean! OMG I think I’m going nuts!