Encountering California Redwoods is a surreal experience, one I was unprepared for when I entered nature’s majestic cathedral.
Researching the internet for potential day trips, I stumbled onto a local website that had information of a forest of Redwoods, near the township of Warburton, a pleasant 90 minutes’ drive from where I live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne Australia.
From a young age, I have had a fascination with Redwoods, so to discover that I could actually see them without flying 12,000 kilometres to California was quite incredible. Excited, I decided to go the very next day.
The tallest trees on Earth
California Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), also known as Coastal Redwoods, are native to a narrow strip of the northern Californian coast. Thriving in the foggy cool moist environment found there, the Redwoods can soar to a height of 100 metres (330 feet) or more.
Discovered in 2006, the tallest tree on Earth is Hyperion, a California Redwood, reaching a height of 116 metres (380 feet). Hyperion in ancient Greek mythology was one of the twelve Titan progenies of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky).
Redwoods linage goes back 200 million years to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and are one of the oldest living organisms on Earth with the capacity to live well over 2000 years.
Why are they found so far from their native home?
In 1930, a governmental public utility body (Melbourne Board of Works) planted approximately 1500 Redwoods and several other tree species (including Bishop Pine and Douglas Fir) as part of a revegetation program because of the clearing of native eucalypt trees. Additional plantings occurred in the early 1960s.
I arrived mid-morning, almost immediately, the glorious rays of the sun briefly pierced through the dull overcast sky that followed me from home, perhaps an omen, though the short walk from the car park to the forest entrance did little to prepare me for the fairy tale was to come.
The Earth moved and shook. I magically entered another realm, a lost world of Redwoods, immense in scale, breathless in splendour and unpretentious authority.
As I gradually stepped from the darkness and deeper into the forest, the Redwoods curtains were drawn, as illuminating beams of sunlight penetrated the canopy revealing the forest in its true majesty.
The forest floor carpeted with fallen leaf needles, crackled as I moved closer to inspect the trunk of one of the giants. I was taken by the distinctive cinnamon-red bark, thick and grooved and fire-resistant, and delicately soft and leathery on touch.
I then extended my neck to its limits, looking up towards the sunlit canopy, and viewed the giant trees reaching the sky. I was in breathless wonder.
Continuing to explore, whistling, feeling at peace, hugging, embracing the Redwoods, I then had this sensation that the trees were aware and appreciative of my veneration and joy.
Was my enraptured emotional state causing my imagination to go in overdrive?
No, recent research has confirmed what I have always believed that trees are conscious of their surroundings. The wise ancient Redwoods were perhaps acknowledging and warming to my sense of wonder.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life. – HERMANN HESSE, Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte
Standing in a forest of Redwoods is a rare experience.
Californian Redwoods were once abundant, stretching for over 8 million hectares (2 million acres), in harmony with fellow earthlings, and a key member of the delicate and rich ecosystem.
Gold was discovered in California in 1848 and the Redwoods fate appeared doomed. The Gold rush with its mass migration and hysteria during the 1850s had a devastating impact on the Californian environment, with the Redwoods almost being wiped out because of logging.
They barely survived with only 5 percent of the original old growth forest remaining.
It’s a good thing that Redwoods were saved from extinction as studies have established that Redwoods forests can absorb more than twice the amount of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) than any other forests on the planet.
The main reasons are their immense height, longevity and resistance to rot once fallen, meaning they will continue to store atmospheric carbon for many centuries whilst laying on the forest floor. Another reason to respect and save Redwoods.
Like a child at visiting Disneyland for the first time I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I didn’t want to leave but longer shadows meant time had come.
The drive home was a blur as I reflected on the day, a day that was as extraordinary and humbling as I had ever experienced. A spiritual like awakening, an epiphany of sorts. I changed that day, for the better, and for that I will always be indebted to California Redwoods, one of mother nature’s special envoys.