Thursday, September 19, 2013

Walking Among the Giants


Since we are in a hurry to see as much as we can before we have to be in Kansas for half a month for familial weddings, we left Eagle Point, OR, on Monday. The plan was to scope out the coastal redwoods and California’s coast as we made our way south. Within a few hours, we had entered Jedidiah Smith Redwood State Park, the first of the redwoods, coming from the north.

We missed the visitor’s center, and then the Walker Road exit, so we did a lot a turning around and going back to things that day. When we did find the visitor center, they had seeds and saplings for redwoods that you could buy and grow your own redwood. I so wanted one, but didn’t get around to purchasing it—it probably wouldn’t like the van climate.

We stopped for lunch on Walker Road. The redwoods here were fairly large—old-growth, they call them. One of the first things you notice about these trees are their massive trunks. They are the tallest trees in the world, but it is really hard to fathom their height. For one, most of us are really bad at perceiving heights—horizontal distances are one thing, height is another. For another, you are in a forest, so it isn’t like you get a clear view of a single tree (one of those can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees things, or more like can’t-see-the-tree-for-the-forest thing, I guess). So, you mostly just get an idea of how tall the tree is by examining the girth of its trunk, then following it up to see if you can tell whether it is towering over its neighbors. This is hard on your neck. You almost need a neck brace to rest your head on while you are examining the canopy—no, seriously! They get to heights that are taller than football fields are long—350+ feet.

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Other interesting observations about the redwood forests:
  • the ground is pretty much roots and mulch. Literally. I dug into the “earth” there, and for several inches (I didn’t care to go further—too many roots making the job too difficult), there is nothing but roots and wood chips from fallen redwoods. I imagine this makes a pretty good dirt after a while, but for now, just an interesting mulch that plants who manage to survive in the darkness of the forest thrive on.
  • most redwoods don’t look very red. Apparently, under the bark the wood is pretty red, but the bark itself looks rather grey. I was a bit disappointed by this—I was expecting red trunks. Apparently the namers only care about the harvested wood color. 
DSC05725Finally some red on the redwoods!
  • the red comes from a chemical called tannin, which protects the tree from pests and fungi—rot and decay. So fallen redwoods last a long time.
DSC05742 There is a Jonathan in this picture—the little speck of red at the far end of the log.
  • there are very few other plants in a redwood forest. Since redwoods live so long—approximately 2000 years—they just grow up and block out light. They get so big that even floods and fires don’t phase them, leaving them as one of the few living species after such an event and making it even harder for other species to grow. And, there are banana slugs which tend to eat everything in its path except redwoods and their seeds, which also decreases the chances of other species surviving.
DSC05721 A dying banana slug.
  • of the species that do coexist with the redwood, there is a plant called sorrel—a three-leaf clover with purple on the groundside of the leaves (green on the sky-side).
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  • the redwood forest is really quiet. Our guess is that there are such few plants, including berries, that other animals, including birds find it difficult to inhabit the forests.
  • there are lots and lots of tree hollows. Growing up, I would always read these stories about people who would find shelter in the hollow caverns of tree trunks. In all my travels, I had not once seen anything I might take shelter from the rain or cold in the base of a tree, except for maybe a hole in the ground beneath a root. I found this very disappointing. However, much to my delight, the redwoods have lots of these shelters.
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As we drove along Highway 101, there were many other chances to see redwoods. There were also a lot of redwood gimmicks. One of the more interesting ones were they built entire (small) houses out of a single log of redwood. These huge logs, laid on their sides, hollowed out, and furnished. They looked to be bigger than our home—Chuck—but smaller than most people’s large RVs.

All in all, the redwoods are amazing, if a bit difficult to fully appreciate. At times, I felt like trying to comprehend the height and age of these trees was similar to trying to comprehend God. I can make comparisons and try visualizing something I know and multiplying to get a scale, but still it is beyond what I will ever experience or fully appreciate. I mean, some of these trees were alive when Christ walked on the earth; I can imagine that but not really. Anyways, seeing the redwoods in person is an experience that I feel every American should do at least once in their life.

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