When I was young in the mountains there were two large oaks in our front yard. One was a red oak and the other a white oak. When it was fall in the mountains I got to be sad that the leaves on the two big trees only seemed to turn a dull brown and fall to the ground. I often wondered if gnomes lived in the massive trunks, but I never did see the tiny brightly painted doors I'd hoped for.
When I was a little older in the mountains, one of the majestic oaks split in a storm from a hurricane. One half fell on the house during lunch. The sound was a big crack and then a soft thump. At supper with Grandma Lois and Grandad, the other half fell on the road. I could look out the front door and see one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever witnessed. It was a tunnel of green leaves, lush from every angle.
Soon, the insurance people came and assessed the damage, and then the chainsaw men and the roofers. They brought the biggest saws I'd ever seen and worked for days removing both old trees. The men said the trees were four and five hundred years old. After it was all over, we were left with stumps about the size of a supper table, four or five feet in diameter. I would visit the stumps and sit on them, mystified by their size. I don't remember feeling sad at the time, but now the death of those proud beings hurts my heart.
When I heard "Reaching the Tops of the World's Tallest Trees" on NPR, I was immediately captivated. Richard Preston has written a book called The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring, where he tells about happening upon a school that taught tree climbing and his quest to the Pacific Northwest to learn more about the world's tallest trees.
I had been in the presence of immensely old life. I had watched my dad use his rock climbing and caving gear to scale the white oak and sit in the hollow of its branches. I had watched the family cat do the same thing in those wild, frisky hours before sunset. This story told of epic trees that were not only old, but also made up California's Redwood rainforest. These trees are home to whole ecosystems within their canopies. Blueberry bushes, tiny trees, massive mosses and adventurous people who study them. These forests possess many unnamed gifts and inspire a sense of wonder in me that I have not felt in some time.
An exerpt from the book, a chapter called "The Fall of Telperion" tells of being in a hammock in the canopy during a storm and witnessing the demise of one of these giants. The sounds that came from the tree and the motion it made were very powerful just to hear told in a story. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to witness.
When I was older still in the mountains, I walked in the winter night to the mailbox at the old Davis Homeplace. The wind blew and a child of the old red oak creaked in the silence.
The author, Richard Preston, and his daughter climbing a three hundred year old Caledonian Pine in Scotland.
Photo by Robert Lewis