Celebrating Arbor Day with Sequoiadendron giganteum
The last Friday in April is celebrated as the universal Arbor Day. Last year, I celebrated with the Douglas Fir. The year before, I celebrated by contemplating trees. This year, I celebrate the Giant Redwood, in all its glory. My most recent experience with Redwoods was on a roadtrip I took down the Oregon and California coast. I hope you have a chance to experience these amazing trees, even if its at your nearest Arboretum.
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I must explain why it is at night, in my own house./Even when no one’s asleep, I feel I must whisper […] The big old rocker presiding over a silent And solemn assembly of all my craftsmen.
-from “Still Life” by Reed Whittemore-
When we reach the redwood trees, it all becomes clear. We don’t know anything, we the intelligent race with fast cars and concrete streets. We are babies, we are toddlers, saying, “no” and making mistakes. We don’t know anything next to these tall trees, trees that can see for miles over hills and valleys covered in trees. They can see all of California, for all that we know. They can see it all, and our highway is one tiny ribbon in the midst of it all. All we can see is the few feet in front of us and the yellow stripe down the middle. We’re caught down on the ground beneath these giants; they can see so far.
As we get out of the car and walk a ways into Founders Grove, it all becomes clear. We shrink in size, like Alice in Wonderland, standing in awe beneath the rocking chair in her living room. Those smooth, wooden rungs tower over her. “How did I ever sit in there?” she wonders. She has a strong desire to start climbing up the skyscraper of a rocking chair. Will she be able to get a grip, as she tries to climb straight up into the light the hangs like the sun from the ceiling?
We stand beneath these ancient redwoods and our minds suddenly become blank; the only task in front of us is to contemplate their height. We clamber onto fallen trees now nurse logs, but we can’t keep our eyes on the immediate in front of us. We are always in danger of falling as we look up, up into the dark canopy above. But no mind. Our feet shuffle hesitantly below, our eyes in wonder above. We cannot keep our eyes off the tops of these trees. Can we even see the top? We clutch our questions to us, questions in awe of the wisdom and age. We clutch them too us because they are the only sense of the world we can admit that is real next to these ancients. These old, tall trees that cannot tell us the stories of what they’ve seen.
All we can do is wonder, question, speculate—What did it look like here when this tree was just a sapling? Or, unimaginably, just a seed? Were there other giants around to keep it company? Or even further back, was this grove once covered in towering ferns, like trees, towering over their now modern dwarf cousin? Did these trees once see Mastodons, Sabertooths, or Mammoths roaming the hills of Northern California, scratching their backs on red, striated bark?
To avoid being lost in questions, or to save ourselves from becoming too dizzy, we remove our gaze from the sky and look down instead. We crouch, examining a small Oxalis leaf, the giant clover. Oh no, are there even more questions down here now, perhaps even more than in the sky?