Photos By : Natalya Suttmiller
Sitting north of the Redwood National Forest of Northern California are the old growth redwoods, untouched for almost 1,300 years.
While taking in the fresh smell of damp wood, walk among the redwoods, meditate with them and experience the symbiosis between all the living things in the forest. Twisting trails of red earthen soils and exposed thick roots splayed across the path take you in and around 350-foot-tall ancients as wide as 30 feet. The hints of sun rays peeking through to the forest floor spotlight the intricate details of the forest: patterns of bark spiraling into great towers; fungi of various shapes, colors and consistencies; Roosevelt elk silently grazing; slow moving banana slugs; and others. There is so much to look at in the canopy — green flowering ferns, big leaf maples, azaleas, rhododendrons and fungi of all sorts. It is extremely humbling to witness an ecosystem that has been thriving since long before premodern civilization.
Reaching wondrous heights, the coastal redwoods are some of the oldest and most resilient living beings in the world, and they happen to be the tallest, too! These trees are the wise sages of the intricate ecosystem of coastal forests stretching from northern California to southern Oregon. The oldest trees have been alive for as long as 1,250 years and are predominantly found within forests that sit between Arcata and Klamath in Humboldt County, a much-overlooked area. Taking a trip to see the old growth is a simple, yet beautiful experience and one that provides the chance to peel away from daily life, routines and material objects.
These forests are what’s left of a long history of redwood forests. Only 5 percent of the original old growth forests still exists today — all the more reason to spend time appreciating them. Fossil records prove that these trees once existed in much of the northern hemisphere and thrived in the Jurassic Era, around 160 million years ago. Both changing climate patterns and logging have left many of the old growth forests to only exist within a precise moderate maritime climate.
They need adequate amounts of water, and thankfully the consistent coastal fog provides the perfect recipe for their vitality – the trees save and store the fog in their branches for later. It’s the branches that soak up water so the trees don’t have to carry moisture from the ground all the way up their 350-foot-tall trunks, which would take a lot of energy. The clever evolution of these trees is what has made them so resilient.
For greater stability, redwoods grow in circles of families. Their complex root systems only go six to 12 feet below ground but spread horizontally to a circumference as large as 150 feet to interlock with all the other trees in the surrounding grove. Truly, Redwoods can teach us how to live in harmony in our own respective communities.
For centuries, humans have found solace within the redwood forests. Seeking out these trees for guidance and clarity, generations of Indigenous tribal communities, such as the Yurok, have thrived on the land that is now known as the Redwood National Forest. They discovered, through ecology-based land stewardship, that they could utilize redwoods sustainably (for example, to build plank houses and canoes for fishing salmon). To this day, long after European settlers forced northern California tribes out of their way of life, off the land and onto reservations, these Indigenous peoples have a foundational spiritual relationship with the redwoods. These tribes are keenly aware of the essential practices that can sustain and keep these forests intact.
The oldest growth forests, completely untouched for up to 1,250 years, are found in the Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. (They’re so ancient that they made the perfect backdrop for Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World, which was filmed in the Fern Canyon area, described as “an unforgettable natural wonder” by Steven Spielberg.) The world’s tallest tree, Hyperion that towers at 379 feet, can be found in Redwood National State Park. These parks contain 40,000 acres of old growth groves and numerous hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, on which to experience them.
Travel to the redwood forest to listen, to quiet the general chatter of everyday life and to observe the subtle details of this ancient natural world — simple acts that bring tranquility.