Beth and I were cruising down Hwy 101 through the trees when “Drive Thru Tree” signs started popping up around every turn. Since we’d never driven through a tree before, we followed the signs until we reached Underwood Park. “That will be $8.00,” said the gentleman.
“What am I paying for, to drive through the tree?” I asked.
“This is an old growth forest owned by the Underwoods. It remains uncut as promised to their ancestors. The fee supports the land. There are trails, a gift shop, and the drive thru tree.”
“I support that.” I handed over greenbacks.
As soon as we left the pay station, the forest canopy envelops us. I open the moonroof. Beth and I take a deep breath, “Ah… look at that moss, it is so green. Wow, look at that giant. It goes up and up.” Beth and I gaze through the roof of the car. The dirt road is empty so I stop and get out of the car. I rest my forehead against the trunk of the giant and thank the grandfather for being there, for his strength and endurance.
When we arrive at the “Drive Thru Tree” Beth exits the car to take a picture. After waiting for tourists to clear the opposite side of the tree, I drove Avy, our Honda Civic, through the Chandelier Tree, a 2,400 years old redwood.
Although Avy is sleek, I cautiously passed through the trunk of the massive redwood. There was less than an inch between the mirror and the wall of the redwood. Beth snapped a photo once Avy and I were within the giant. I touched the inside of the thick, dark trunk. Once I parked Avy, Beth grabbed an ice cream as I wandered around. There was a line of cars and a motorcycle waiting to pass through the tree. Tourists snapped pictures while drivers negotiated the trunk. One man in a convertible stopped,reached up for the top of the trunk and smiled as his wife captured the moment on film. Beth and I walked up to one of the grandfathers who laid on the ground. The size of the massive trunk made Beth look like a dot in the photo. After recording the redwoods through our camera lens, we jumped back on the highway.
At first I thought the Chandelier Tree may have been harmed in order to establish a tourist attraction. It turns out redwoods have thick, insulating bark. The sap is mostly water. Fires have burned them up to 100′ from the ground and they continue to grow. Most growth happens in the first 100 years. They grow approximately 30′ in 20 years, growing 2-3 feet/year. Once they reach the forest canopy, in about 200 years, they turn their energy to their core. By 400 years, the trunk expands to 5-7′ in diameter. In its 700th year, the trunk measures 10-15′ in diameter. A hole in the trunk does little to stop a redwood.
Only about 4% of old growth forests remains today due to logging. At Redwood National Park, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, we witnessed the effects of logging. The giants simply disappear; low growth remains. Fields of ferns cover the landscape. Wind is the great gardener. “Windmakers” snap the highest branches. I’m sure they make quite a racket when they snap and fall to the ground. Humans will topple them before nature will. Yet, coastal redwoods, “Sempervirens” means everlasting. The redwoods live longer than almost any other plant on the planet. Even dead or dying trees nurse other plants and house animals. Redwoods are quite remarkable.
The redwoods are only part of the old growth forest. Douglas Fir and moss covered Western Hemlock keep redwoods company. The mossy branches are home to flying squirrels who descend to the forest floor for mushrooms. I wish we saw one of them, but we weren’t that fortunate. The green moss looks stringy hanging from the branches. Ferns provide shade, moisture and protection for smaller plants. Wildflowers scatter the landscape. Wet winters as well as 60-70″ of rain assists forest growth. Low summertime temperatures and fog keep the redwoods going strong. Redwood leaves hold the moisture, eventually dropping it into the soil. Fog, a large part of the moisture, is 1/3 water. Fog also creates a surreal feeling within the forest. It makes it eerie, mystical.
Our greatest mistake was taking a dirt road off the beaten path amongst the giants. Avy, Beth and I wove our way in and around the redwood forest. We climbed to the upper canopy, visually observing how the redwoods view the world around them. The fog and sun played tag all day, casting amazing shadows and golden rays throughout the forest. The scene changed around each corner. Forever changing scenery, that is what we experienced in the redwoods. Be well… Nancy T.
“One of my most unforgettable memories of the past years is walking through the Redwoods last November–seeing the lovely shafts of light filtering through the trees so far above, feeling the majesty and silence of that forest, and watching a salmon rise in one of those swift streams–all our problems seemed to fall into perspective and I think every one of us walked out more serene and happier.”
~ Lady Bird Johnson
July 30, 1969
Grove dedicated August 27, 1969