Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Meeting giant trees

Hello! and thank you for the kind wishes in the comments after my last blogpost. This post is a bit long so settle down with a cuppa . . .

I'm now back in British Summer time, the post holiday washing is all done and I've answered all my emails and dealt with the post; I'm starting to remember what a wonderful adventure Cliff and I had on our long journey from Seattle down the Pacific North West coast of the USA to San Francisco.

One of the reasons for deciding to go back to the US west coast . . . well actually it was THE main reason . . . we both wanted to see the Coastal Redwood forests.

After a lovely train journey from Seattle, we spent a weekend in Portland - which was fabulous and fun; followed by a week in the Cascade Mountains before driving down the stunningly beautiful Oregon coast before we reached California and the Coastal Redwoods.

So far, the sun had shone every day of the trip (yes, even in Portland!) but as soon as we reached California the mornings were cool and foggy; we stopped at The Lady Bird Johnson Grove to meet our first giant trees . . .


We walked along a short trail into the forest and soon reached the Redwoods, their straight trunks like columns disappearing high above us into the mist.


These photographs remind me of the experience, but I'm not sure they really show you the sheer vastness of the trees that we saw here, and in the Redwood forests through Humbolt County over the following three days.


This photo may help you to grasp the scale . . . that teeny little toy-person propped against a tree is in fact really me standing against 'BIG TREE' one of the biggest of the ancient 'old stand' Redwoods still in existance.


This tree is 304 feet (92.6 metres) tall, that is roughly the same height as the Statue of Liberty in New York or Big Ben's Clock Tower (The Elizabeth Tower) in London.
The diametre of its trunk is 21.6ft (6.6 metres) and the circumference is 68 feet (20.7 metres).
The estimated age of BIG Tree is 1500 years.

For such huge trees the leaves and cones are surprisingly small scale, here are some leaves I picked up from the forest floor to stick into my travel diary - they are very similar to and not much larger than English Yew tree leaves. The tiny cones are about the size of acorns, and are full of hundreds of seeds.

But, although some Readwoods do grow from the scattered seeds, the more usual method of reproduction is by side shoots - which explains their scientific name: Sequoia sempervirons, meaning 'everlasting'.

The life cycle of the tree spans a millennium . . . one thousand years . . . new growth from the knobbly 'buds' around the base of the trunk is triggered when a mature tree becomes stressed - a severe drought or a lightning strike starting a forest fire is often the cause. The side-shoots grow fast and straight, it is the survival of the fittest and one, two or sometimes three eventually out-grow the others.


The side shoot has the same dna as the parent . . . in all respects it is the same tree with the same roots.

The parent tree often already weakened by fire damage, is gradually broken down by winter storms and the ring of new giant trees takes its place around the ancient stump.



Fire can burn away the dry heart-wood but this rarely kills the Redwwod - its thick bark holds a huge amount of water and protects the vital outer layer of the trunk - the tree survives until it's off-shoot is tall and strong. The ancient burnt out trees provide safe winter shelters for forest animals . . . cougar, bobcat and bear.



Eventually the biggest giants fall . . . the tree in the photo below was, until 1991 the biggest in this area of forest . . . a bigger and older neighbour of 'BIG TREE', it toppled over in a storm. The sound of it crashing onto the forest floor was heard miles away and people feared they had heard a train crash!


Twenty years later the fallen giant is providing nutrients for the ferns that have colonized its thick, soft bark; the succession of decomposing fern leaves make compost for various smaller shrubs and trees to colonise a 300ft long seed bed.

The legacy will eventually be a straight line of trees through the forest, and the vast trunk returned to the forest floor. 


The Redwood timber was prized by logging companies who had already felled almost 2 million acres before a few concerned people in the early 20th century woke up to the fact that the unique habitat was about to disappear for ever. Even so, the biggest of the giants had been felled - here is a slice of the largest tree felled in Medocina County with the saw that was used to cut through it's vast trunk.




It was estimated to have been 1900 years old when it was felled in 1943. By the early 1960s, about 95% of the original Californian Coastal Redwoods had gone, but thankfully the voices of those who fought for the protection of the remaining 100,000 acres were being heard and state parks were created around the last remaining pockets of the forests.

I can't find the right words to thank the sense and foresight of those who saved the trees, just being able to stand in the forest is a deeply moving experience and unforgettable.


These trees are as old as our written history and hopefully they will survive far into the future.







 

I hope you got an idea of what it's like to walk though the Coastal Redwood Forests . . . it really is magical.



Celia
x





29 comments:

  1. Looking through the mist at those straight trunks up towards the crown gives them an ethereal beauty and stature. Lovely pictures.

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    1. You're right, the mist seems to make the forest more huge and mysterious. Difficult to convey the scale.

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  2. What a magical experience! I find them so overwhelmingly beautiful, that is a trip I NEED to do in my lifetime! As you say, I dont think you can appreciate the mightiness until you're stood underneath, true strength of nature! Glad you had such a good trip!

    Katie

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    1. Yes, do try to see them for yourself! It's so hard to imagine the scale.

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  3. Thank you so much for this post, Celia. Your descriptions and photos really do beautifully present the splendor of the redwood forests to those of us who will never be fortunate to see them ourselves.

    I am remembering our conversation in the lovely Bloomsbury restaurant about trees and and nature, and trying to find a way to use our artist's eye to translate what we get to see.

    Of course, I am now so, so curious to see how your Pacific coast trip will find its way into your art.

    Meanwhile, I am contemplating the ways in which it seems that the redwoods take care of their own. (Do you know the Springsteen tune?)

    xo

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    1. I'll have to google that...
      As for translating the redwoods into art... I think I would need a longer time to take it all in and think. But maybe something will come into my mind.
      xx

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  4. When my children were younger we were fortunate to have two holidays in California, on one of those visits we went to see the Giant Redwoods. Your photos capture the feeling very well although you have to see it to believe it. You have brought back very happy memories. Thank you for this post!

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    1. So, you'll know exactly what I mean... I'm pleased to remind you of a happy holiday.

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  5. Oh my goodness, aren't they amazing? Your first photo is just fabulous.
    I've always been awed by the redwood at Kew but to see them in what feels like abundance here is magical indeed. What a relief somebody had the foresight to protect them. Fascinating facts too, thank you : )

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    1. Yes, put them on your list... the trees at Kew are a third the size of the ones in N California. So next time you go to Kew imagine them scaled up x3!
      xx

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  6. It wasn't until I scrolled down to the photograph of you sitting at the base of the tree that I realised their true dimensions. These are incredible and make me think we are looking into a Jurassic scene.

    I am also ashamed to say I had not realised Big Ben's clock tower had been renamed! (Call myself a Brit) :O.

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    1. I know! It's impossible to describe the feeling you get when you're surrounded by the big trees in the misty forest.

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  7. Aren't they magnificent! I wish I'd had longer in California and could have spent more time in the northern region.It will have to be on my "next time" list.

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    1. That's what we thought last year, then this year we thought... what the heck, we'll go back!

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  8. I visited these majestic trees some years ago now! Thanks for taking me back there again! Ada :)

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    1. Bet you'll never ever forget what it was like to stand next to a Coastal Redwood!?

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  9. I have to go!! Wonderful account Celia. Off to check the previous post now x

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  10. You make me feel so fortunate to be living in the land of the Redwoods! Your photos do a great deal of justice to them, but you are right, it is difficult to comprehend their immensity without being in their midst. It's been a long time since I've visited the giants on the north coast, but I do get to enjoy our pockets of redwoods hidden in the valleys and canyons along the Big Sur coast on a regular basis. Did you get a chance to visit the Sequoia gigantea of the Sierra Nevada? They aren't quite as tall but they are more immense - truly awesome.

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    1. You are very very very lucky! We visited Big Sur and saw your slightly smaller trees last year. The Californian coast is so spectacular, I love the beaches and rock formations too.
      No, we ran out of time, so couldn't fit in a visit to the Giant Redwoods in Yosemite - maybe that will have to be another holiday ;-)

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    2. You will have to come back and visit Yosemite, the big trees are only part of the show there. There are too many amazing places in the world to visit, but in my unbiased opinion (ha!) it should be on your bucket list.

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    3. Yosemite is definitely on the list along with dozens of other places!

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  11. A magical post Celia. Thank you for sharing your trip.

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    1. Hi Gina - I think Oregon mountains/rivers/coast rival those of New Zealand - shorter flight too ;-)

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  12. WOW amazing. What a wonderful place to visit. Hope you'll post more pictures from the trip soon.

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    1. Have a couple more posts planned, but must get busy in the studio!

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  13. No the images never do it justice. When my family and I visited the giant trees in Tasmania we were all spiritually lifted. When trying to describe it to friends and showing photos, I didn't feel they got it. One of those thing you just have to experience first hand. Did you find it a spiritual kind of experiences, like there really was something more here than just big trees?

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  14. Lovely images and very interesting to read about your travels Celia.
    We have got the fog at the moment, but no Redwoods unfortunately.{:)

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  15. i love your words for the redwoods. one of my favorite things on earth. beautiful post celia.

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