National Geographic : 1939 Feb
CALIFORNIA'S COASTAL REDWOOD REALM forests over the dank sites of Stockholm, Paris, and Rome. Only great ice sheets that crept down over the Northern Hemisphere and made them white worlds such as Greenland re mains today could mow down the redwoods. The European trees could not migrate across the Mediterranean and Near East ern seas, so they disappeared from what we now call the Old World. WHEN REDWOODS "ROAMED" AMERICA In North America they were pushed south. When the last ice age receded, hard ships of their migration back north extin guished all but the two species surviving today in northern California and one county of southern Oregon. In Humboldt County the Redwood High way winds through cool lanes of even denser redwoods, sometimes unbroken for stretches of 30 miles. Shafts of subdued light ricochet through lofty branches and form figures like those of your schoolbook geometry. A "peace that passeth under standing" descends even upon the motor ist, who cannot speed if he would because wise roadmakers have twisted and curved the highway to avoid stately groves. "Why do these trees live so long?" I asked a forester. "Redwoods are immune to any killing fungus of consequence," he said. "Their durable heartwood resists rot; their thick bark resists fire, and cushions the tree against abrasion. "The redwood's three worst enemies are man, storm, and itself, when it gets top heavy. And have you ever seen two trees fighting? You can hear them far away on windy nights, growling like wild animals as they rub and grind together, tearing each other's thick hide, or bark." While the redwood resists fire, it is not fireproof. A park superintendent tells of one that kept burning for four months. Signs warn, "One tree can make a million matches, but one match can destroy a mil lion trees." One night we drove head on into the sight of a lifetime, a redwood forest fire. Trees 200 feet tall were pillars of flame. Lofty tongues of fire crackled like machine gun shots. We climbed a hill and saw scores of acres of flames flaring up into the smoke-blackened sky. A few days later we drove back that way. Underbrush was charred, bark of the trees was singed, but not a redwood had fallen. Traces of worse fires of a hundred, five hundred, even a thousand years ago, we saw later at a lumber camp. For new wood enfolds the burns, the tree lives on, and the sawmill suffers from the imperfec tion when finally it is cut down. Everywhere you see examples of the red woods' amazing vitality. At Scotia they built a bank with redwood pillars, the bark left on. For months they had to keep clip ping off the sprouts from the First Na tional's Grecian redwood columns. Along Elk River we counted eight trees growing from a redwood log. They were limbs, technically, but tall and straight as an elm or spruce. One man runs a busy gift shop in a hollow, living tree; once they raided a still in another, and from a third chased out eleven men in a poker game. Native sons point out old homesteads of early settlers in trunks of trees. Pioneers lived in hollow trees until they built red wood cabins. From landscaped Benbow, north through forest-girt Dyerville, immaculate Fortuna, and toward Eureka, the Redwood Highway winds through a series of State parks and skirts the cascading waters of the Eel River. TREES FOR POSTERITY "The biggest real estate man in Cali fornia," they call the secretary of the Save the-Redwoods League, through the efforts of which some 30,000 acres north of San Francisco, costing about $6,000,000, al ready have been acquired for State Parks. Bull Creek Flat has the heaviest stand of redwood timber in the world. Some times there are fifty or more giants to the acre, which could yield a million board feet. One tree north of here would build 22 bungalows. You can hike for days through vast Prai rie Creek State Park, and forget doorbells, war rumors, newspapers, ticker tape, and radio news flashes. Inevitably you succumb to the spell of peace, serenity, timelessness. Botanists have counted more than 800 kinds of flow ers here, nearly 500 kinds of mushrooms, and some of the 14 species of ferns grow taller than a 6-foot man. "You even have to climb 150 feet to pick our huckleberries," says the park superin tendent, with a straight face. Then he takes visitors to redwoods where berries grow on bushes in lofty crotches of tall trees.