Big Trees

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Stout RedwoodsStout Grove — Photo & Review: Russell Johnson

On this Fourth of July I am looking out my window at something that transcends our brief, troubled time, a being whose living cousins were born before Jesus, who have survived the scores of scoundrels that have spread misery across the earth in the name of patriotism, faith, greed and getting the trains running on time, who will live long past the time when St. Peter will put Bush and Cheney in a lineup of “usual suspects” and Kim Jong Il keels over into a vat of rotten kimchi.

I am looking at a California Redwood. I feel its quiet presence: comforting and permanent. I want to hug it…but it is Big Momma ten times over.

I have about a dozen specimens of sequoia sempervirens on my lot north of San Francisco.  Most of mine are less than 100 years old,
but in the deep, foggy valleys to the north, some have grown to 35stories and 2,200 years old. These are the tallest, oldest trees on
earth.

As I read “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston, a saga of thepioneers who were perhaps the first to explore the canopies of these
giants, I close my eyes and dream of the experience: flying squirrel dreams. I can relate as I have spent days, myself, hiking the rainforests of California’s far north where they accomplished their feats. It is so quiet in these valleys of cool steam such as Stout
Grove, in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, you can almost hearyour heart beat. You get an eerie feeling that a brontosaurus might be noshing just around the corner.

Preston, a longtime writer for the NewYorker, tells the story of a small group of tree fanatics and botanistswho climb where no man or woman has climbed before, into a lost world,a strange Jack In the Beanstock ecosystem that doesn’t even start until you get way, way up there.  Up in this forest canopy live huckleberry bushes, ferns, salamanders, red ants and species previously unknown to
science. Preston even “learns the ropes” himself, glomming on to the curiosity, passion and, some think, lunacy of this tribe of explorers who risk their lives on every limb. Whyd o beauty and danger make such a tasty match?

There is an ending to the story, the discovery and climb by Chris Atkins, Michael Taylor and the author of what may be the
world’s tallest tree, the tree they named Hyperion at 379.1 feet.  This maybe almost as high as a redwood can go. An article in Nature theorized that because of gravity and a tree’s physical properties, 400-425 feet may be limit before it fails, and when something that has 18.600 cubic feet of wood fails, you had better not be nearby. The fact that tree people call the site of a tree failure the “detonation zone” says it.

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