Every once in a while, you get in your car and drive out of town and wind up in a place you never thought you’d find yourself. It all starts with a certain degree of familiarity, but soon enough you’re on a path you couldn’t have imagined or known
It’s when you get out of the car and stand and walk among the giants that live along Northern California’s coastal mountains that you find trees that make everything else seem minute and meaningless. They tower up to 350 feet tall and they shelter up to 1700 species. They hover and they protect. They aspire and they drink. They stand tall with integrity, until they can’t any more.
The trunk of a redwood is made to withstand the wind, until it’s roots give way. They don’t have a deep root structure, but the roots can spread 100 feet. Thus, they have a good center of gravity, remaining stable and sturdy until they can’t drink more and their roots become weak. Then, they lose hold of the ground and their grip falters. The next high wind catches their top and pushes them into another tree, or another tree falls taking them down with it.
A tree only partially fallen will still survive and continue growing out of the part of itself that has fallen. It is so filled with tannins that the insects can’t and don’t eat it. The great trees drink and drink and drink, up to 100 gallons per day. And, then they turn around and give back up to 500 gallons of water into the atmosphere. They withstand an incredible amount of abuse, even extensive fires. They stay focused on the sky.
They don’t lean on another tree unless they are injured. What looks like dereliction and waste is aging and decaying and breaking down. It is a dynamic process. What is left is used and reused and incorporated with the next need. There is nothing wasted, nothing is left out of the process.
In comparison to the redwoods and the animals we’ve observed along our journey, we’ve seen places where humans have altered, meddled, muttered, sold, twisted, shaped, extracted, taken, bought, owned, parlayed, and moved, all in the name of progress.
And, what of our human-ness, or our role in the family, is there something we can learn about sustaining it? How can we go about our day, our life, our humanity, with some sense of using and replacing and symbiosis, so that there is some sense of the ebb and flow that naturally to this life?
For my own part, I had no idea I was raised by a conservationist until we drove down the northern California coast right into the Mendocino Headlands, saved in 1971 by two women who knew that if the area wasn’t protected it would be built on by an overly eager developer who saw a chance to make a dollar. Thinking back, I remember my father preaching the rules of being in the out of doors. He said we should not litter, that we should take things out with us even if we didn’t bring them in, and we should always, always, always leave a place better than when we found it. Hmmm, could that be my penchant for picking up the litter and organizing a clean-up in my business neighborhood?
And as the road winds up and down over the mountains and valleys, my thoughts follow in their own up and down pattern. Connecting this to that and the other thing to that thing from long, long ago. Such is the way of learning. We see, we observe, we take in, we incorporate, assimilate, integrate. And, somehow, if we’re lucky, something in our pattern changes and we find ourselves more comfortable, with less struggling, less of whatever is too much and more of what is not enough. Here’s to the learning.