My first communion with the redwoods took place on September 29.
Standing in silence
I can hear loud trees’ heartbeats
Carving ‘I love you’
I’m standing in silence. The trees are tall and I feel quiet inside. It’s my first time experiencing the redwoods. I am in the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the home of two groves of giant sequoia trees. There is a dry smell that invades my nostrils, aromatic, with a coniferous scent. The air also feels dry and cold. We explore in an orderly fashion, by walking through designated paths, almost like we do it in our lives but for different reasons. I feel petite and shy, just like a school girl. Monumental trees are going by as we get deeper into the forest and I cannot believe that I am here with them.
The story of the Calaveras started not too long ago, much recent than the story of the trees. “Discovered” in 1882, the area is now a huge park. Most of the trees made it alive after the discovery. Some did not. The ‘Father of the Forest’ is down, the ‘Mother of the Forest’ died too, after its bark was stripped away by people. It is believed that ‘she’ was the biggest tree.
Today is a hot day but as we get under the shade my skin feels cold and calm, as if the entire Universe slows down with every heart beat. A calm peace descends over me. This is a holly place of contemplation and deep insight. As I keep staring at them, the trees become part of my flux. I can sense their presence into my soul.
I’m not sure where to look first. I’m walking over a stump that is 7.3 meters in diameter. They say it belonged to a 1244 years tree. The Discovery Tree. There should be 1244 rings to count but I give up very soon. It was a nice try.
I feel like I am in another world. That is because I am in another world! There is a bench I spotted and I sit on it to listen to the forest. The forest is quiet, and I can hear the wind through the trees. Here and there I can feel the warmth of my beloved Sun God on my skin but only for a fraction of a second. He is here with me but also very busy hiding in a web of branches.
The trees are keeping the sky away, like in the Maori legend of creation where Tanemahuta, the God Guardian of the forest, pushed the sky father away from Earth mother. And I think to myself, maybe the legend is true. If you look from Earth, it feels almost like the trees are holding the sky. And suddenly I feel curious to see what’s above them, on top of the canopy. I would give anything to be able to fly now like the eagles.
Sequoia sempervirens – ‘sequoia forever green’
This tree is the only living species of the genus Sequoia, which belongs to cypress family Cupressaceae.
These trees can grow quite big! They are polyploid, which explains a lot, I thought. This means that instead of two paired sets of chromosomes (like humans have) they get ‘extra’. More genetic material in the plants’s world means that they can grow larger than those with only two pairs. Plants do this a lot, and the Sequoia can even grow as tall as 115 meters by 8.5 meters in diameter.
Sequoia sempervirens are not only among the biggest but also oldest things living on Earth. Empires have fallen and risen in the two thousand years since these Sequoia started growing in California. The name “sempervirens” reminisces on my history lessons as in Latin this means ‘forever green’. It occurs to me that when the oldest known trees here were only seedlings, the Roman Empire was also at the pinnacle of its glory… about 2200 years ago. The trees are still standing.
A creature of fog and fire, just like me
S. sempervirens goes through fire. As a general rule trees do not leave their ground, unless they are re-potted, and I always felt fascinated about the way they commune with each other. Once you have a companion it is for the rest of your 2000 years old life. But what if you get upset with your neighbour? Then what? Ignore them for the rest of their eternity? Trees compete for space and resources. Some, like the walnut tree (Juglans regia), poison the soil so that nothing can grow under their shadow. Other, like Sequoia sempervirens, get ‘baptised’ with fire, which is not an unusual occurrence in that part of the world. The bigger the fire, the greater their capacity for regeneration. Fires also get rid of competing species.
In our sometimes small human world, we think it’s all quiet and smooth in the plants’ world, the reality is that merciless wars are fought there permanently and languages spoken among invaders and besieged. I have learned a lot about that in my plant-microbe interaction course at uni and about many other things they do, which is also why trees will never cease to amaze me.
And to conquer my heart forever, where there is fog, there is a tall Sequoia. Normally the leaves of the trees get water and nutrients from the roots, but these Sequoias grow so tall that gravity defeats the water potential carrying the water up to the leaves. In other words water cannot reach that high via the tree trunk. Their tall leaves take their water directly from the atmosphere, bypassing the xylem and via the epidermal tissue, so fog is what keeps them tall.
A perfect moment in time
Life as I know it is just a long line of perfect moments aligned in time. Being here is one of them.
Standing in silence
I can still feel it today,
Love, trees are forever.