Thursday, July 19, 2012

Great sequoia wisdom

Leaving Crescent City
Redwoods National Park!  As we left Crescent City, an old sea pelican bid us travel well.  I approached respectfully.  He gave me a dignified pose.

We took the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. You won't go far on that road before you will be startled by the tall, solemn giants, bathed in white light, that stand silent sentinel.  Seeing them, placid, mute, undeniable as all glory, made me wonder:  What plain truths am I not seeing?  How do we grow blind?
Natural cathedral
Part of the answer may have been revealed in a conversation we had with a married couple from Orange, Texas. They were warm, slow-talking, plainly-vested folk.  The kind of folk who would not fathom pretension or vanity.  I mentioned that we were from Portland and that I hadn't been here, to the Redwoods, in 40 years.

"But that's just a day's drive away, isn't it?" said the old guy.

I shrugged.  "Crazy, ain't it?"

He laughed the laugh that comes when you discover something obvious.  "That's the way it goes.  You never see what's close."

The old gent took our picture.  We shook hands and bid each other travel well.

We spoke with many people on the trails. People from all over the United States and all over the world.  Many Texans, some Arizona folk, a friendly, intelligent couple from Denver, some folks from the Netherlands, some Germans, some Swiss.

Lichen on the foot of a giant
And we saw many of the giant Coast Redwoods.

The great trees may live for 2000 years or more.  They are among the largest trees in the world.

Delicate life
A crowd had gathered around "Big Tree" at a pull-out along the highway.  Big Tree stands 350 feet high, with a 21.6 foot diameter.  He is approximately 1500 years old. 

A ranger stood nearby, dispensing facts and information.  He indicated places some 30 to 50 feet from the ground, where the tree has started to rot.  "So, Big Tree is dying, then?" I asked.

"It's got some rot, but that doesn't mean it won't live another 300 or 400 years or more."

That made me scratch my chin.

Banana slugs procreatin'
The ranger was full of interesting facts.

The biggest enemy of the Coast Redwood is wind.  Especially after a heavy rainfall, when the soil is water-saturated.  Redwood roots spread far and wide, but never deep.  A tree 200 feet tall will delve no more than 12 feet into the earth.  Coast Redwoods are in their prime at about 800 to 900 years of age.  That is when they are tallest.  After that, the wind tops them.

Maty in nature
Only one of every million sequoia seeds will ever sprout.  The seeds need bare earth; no needles, no encroachment from fern or rhododendron; only bare soil will do.  And of those one-in-a-million sprouts that find bare soil, only those that have the good fortune to find sunlight will survive.

But they are patient.  A sprout may remain a sprout for 30 or 40 years, awaiting opportunity.

Holy light
Because eventually, even 1500-year-old Big Tree will fall.  Big Tree sprouted up out of the earth as Rome and Persia were vying for dominance in the Middle East.  What will the world be like when Big Tree finally falls?  It is possible that even the sapling white oak in Mount Tabor Park will have lived a full life, died, and returned to earth before Big Tree succumbs.

The fall of a Coast Redwood is a cataclysm and Big Tree will be no exception.  Each tree is a universe entire for the flora and fauna that live upon it.  But when Big Tree falls, hopefully, there will be 30 and 40 year old sprouts to drink in the light that his fall lets in.  Hopefully, they will then begin their centuries-long journey skyward.

Elk bein' mellow
Redwoods National Park is one of the reasons I love America.  Spare me the red, white, and blue jingoism and the warlike fake patriotism.

Curious plant life
I love America because of these great treasures; these endowments of the Great Whatever.  It's a love for the land of America.  The land itself.

Inside a charred bole
As the rock band Kansas sang:
Virgin land of forest green  
Dark and stormy plains  
Here all life abounds  
Sunlit valley, mountain fields  
Unseen in the rain 
Here all life abounds
Maty on the Lady Bird Johnson trail
Redwoods National Park exemplifies the unfathomable endowment of this wondrous land.  Looking upon it, my heart hurts for the many millions who never have the opportunity to see how beautiful is this world.
Redwood jay
We can be a people of knowledge and generosity.  We can be a people that others welcome to their lands with hope and glad hearts. 

Ancient grove
That's what I remembered when I went to Redwoods National Park.

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