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The Magnificent California Redwoods
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The Magnificent California Redwoods
  Crescent City Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

Can you imagine the chaos on earth if we were all drawn to the same earthly delights? Scenery, for example. Wouldn't it be precariously crowded in one corner of the world if we all liked the same scenery? Thank goodness beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Nevertheless, there are a few natural wonders that appeal to everyone, a few visions that even after the briefest visit never leave our minds. The Grand Canyon is one, Niagara Falls another, the California Redwoods a third . . .

The California Redwoods?

This stand of cedars, botanically named "sequoia semperviren" grows in a narrow strip along the Pacific Coast from the extreme southwestern corner of the state of Oregon to south of Monterey, California. The trees thrive in cool moist year-round weather that rarely freezes. Such is the weather of the north coast of California. Cool and moist.

I've had several opportunities to explore the forests of California's northern coastline and each time I take to the woods, I am awed by the presence of the magnificent giant redwoods.

Mountains are monumental, yes. Lakes, rivers and oceans rise and fall, yes. But trees . . . trees . . . they just grow and grow and grow. Especially, the redwood.

The redwood grows fast; some individual trees have been measured at 360 feet in height making the redwood the tallest measured tree in the world. ( It's not the biggest, the biggest in diameter and bulk is the giant sequoias, cousins to the coast redwoods. ) The tallest tree, 367.8 ft., found by the National Geographic Society in 1963 ( the Howard A. Libby tree ), is in the Redwood National Park.

Coast redwoods are among the oldest living things on earth. ( They can tell the age of the cedar by counting the growth rings.) They grow steadily, without fanfare -- some for two thousand years. ( A 2,200 year-old tree was logged in 1933. ) However, most of the giant trees on the Pacific Coast blossomed a mere 500 to 700 years ago. That's around the time Columbus discovered America.

The heartwood of this beautiful cedar comes in various shades of reds -- from pale cherry to deep mahogany. The wood is light, yet tough; the grain is usually straight unless from a burl cut crossways; then the grains can be endless swirls.

Burls, by the way, without getting too technically, are 'dormant' buds or stems tips that grow downward forming a large mass usually near the bottom of the tree. People cut them down, sometimes illegally, and use them in crafts. Smaller burls are used as a base for clocks and pictures; larger burls make handsome coffee and end tables.

Raw burls can be purchased, too. By placing them inverted in a shallow pan of water, the sleeping buds sprout. I'm not sure why anyone would want to keep a piece of wood in the living room, but I guess it's just like any other plant.

Redwood is easy to work with and very rot-resistant. It is difficult to season and neither shrinks nor swells much. It is also one of the few woods termites don't like. With all that going for it, it's not surprising that by 1925 more than one third of the redwood area had been logged.

The Save-the-Redwoods League had officially begun in 1918, but preservation was sought long before that -- the Big Basin Redwoods State Park was successfully created in 1902 (and here I thought conservation was today's phenomena). Through the years many memorial groves were protected, however, it took an incredible ninety years of perseverance before the National Redwood Park was finally in place. The park's present size is 42,900 hectares. Its boundaries include three state parks: Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek. Taking into account the price of today's timber, it is one of the most expensive parks in America. Think of all those red cedar tubs or swimming pool decks or saunas that won't get built. Or those aromatic cedar hope chests.

The Redwood National Park is a busy place during the summer months. Highway 101 cuts through it roughly from Crescent City running south about 40 miles. It's a beautiful highway straddling the ocean; hundreds of tourists drive back and forth daily. Of course, the biggest attraction to the public, besides the fabulous Pacific Ocean at its edge and the elk and other wildlife roaming about, is the century-old redwoods. Many of these ancient giants can be seen right along the highway but to get the true feeling of their magnificence you need to venture into one of the marked trails and groves.

(The visitors center at either end of the park has pamphlets and maps describing the trails and highlights.)

Trailers and motor homes are prohibited on some roads inside the park, a few are marked not advised. We would never drive on a road where the signs said prohibited; that would be stupid and dangerous. However, we occasionally try the roads where the rules say not advised. (That might be stupid, but not dangerous.)

The hike was magically and mystically. There is almost always fog in the woods without which these powerful trees could not survive. The trees stood straight, steady, strikingly tall . . . Sunlight filtered through the mist and branches; birds sang, the pungent needles shivered in the wind.

Our footsteps crunched rhythmically, blissfully silenced between each step; a woodpecker could be heard knocking rapidly . . . I raised my eyes and got a glimpse of blue and white. I felt so small, standing in nature's cathedral surrounded by green-fringed steeples that touched the sky.

The scene is one of inspiration. Poets are born here. Artists blossom. Conservationists are created. Such is the impact of the magnificent California Redwoods.

Can you imagine in a sweep of the axe ( or saw ) we could destroy something that has been growing, not just lying around like a rock, but actually growing, for six or seven hundred years? Is it any surprise that people are crusading to keep the trees alive?

Yes, the California Redwood is one of nature's natural wonders and beautiful to all. Uncrowded and protected. I dare one soul to spend five minutes alone in its shadow and not be moved -- not come out unchanged.

I think of the poem by James Dillet Freeman. I don't know if he ever saw the California Redwood. It doesn't matter. He understood the beauty of the tree. And gave me permission to reprint his poem: "Tree of Life".

"Tree of Life" by James Dillet Freeman

If ever I should not be me, I think I'd like to be a tree. Trees never seem to need the thought That they should be what they are not; They are content. When winds blow loud. They bow, and they are not too proud To let birds roost among their boughs Or share their shade with sheep and cows. They love the sun, and also love The rain, and without push or shove, Just by the fact that they breathe there. They give the world a sweeter air. Trees live a century or so, And all the while they live, they grow! (Permission granted to reprint this poem.)

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