Rainshadow Redwoods

I’m not sure what you think of when you think of a redwood forest, but for me, it’s the lush, Pacific Northwest version where Ewoks could plausibly roam between the six foot tall sword ferns. For a change of hiking scenery, we left the lush Endor redwoods of the north and went down to the alien landscape of the central redwood world.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park is redwood forest, but not the redwood forest like the one that lies to the north. For one, it’s warm. And compared to the hide-and-seek the tree behemoths play in the dense northern forests, these redwoods are in plain sight, no guessing as to what might be hiding 3 feet from you, or up in the canopy.  Especially along the Bull Creek terrace, uniformly straight redwoods create a visual wall of wood, sparsely broken by the few understory plants around. While the majority of tallest redwoods are found here, only two of the 20 biggest by volume call this place home. And if you’re keeping track of redwood growth patterns at home, generally speaking, redwoods grow up first, then eventually focus on getting wider both at the base and in the canopy.

No complex canopy here.

Walking the trails, we debated why these redwoods, sheltered from the brutal winds of winter storms, couldn’t be as massive and old as the redwoods to the north. Considering the drier environment, they could be decently old, but just not as wide at the base or in the crown due to smaller growth rings that come with less precipitation.  But there’s also the fact that so many of them are nearly identical in diameter, likely being close to the same age.

I have a theory, but nothing to back it up with besides observations. It seems that something took out all the redwoods along the creek maybe 700 or so years ago. Flood? Fire? Not sure, but the only flood references I could find were from the ’50s and ’60s. On the hillsides, it almost seems as if large fires ate away the larger redwoods, leaving the young burl sprouts that grow after the fire as markers of the massive tree that once stood. Fire and flood perhaps currently keep the largest trees from growing in this area. Considering we didn’t see any Ewoks on our hike, I guess they didn’t like living in this area either. Probably too much fur for how warm it is down there!

Maybe a cathedral ring? If so the parent tree, from which the smaller side trees sprouted, might have been nearly the same size as the current largest redwood. Husband used for scale.

Appraising Parks

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As long as parks are appreciated and beauty on some level is found within them, I assume they can withstand economic hard times.  I’m not sure I could say the same when natural resources and land become extremely scarce.

Sometimes my appreciation for a park isn’t immediate. Crater Lake, after the cold numbed me and the snow fell, grew on me. I appreciated the Badlands immediately. Redwood is slowly but surely growing on me, too. But it’s the smaller urban parks that take me the most time.

Hiller Park in McKinleyville is near my home. I walk through it nearly daily. It features a dog park full of dug-out gopher holes, baseball fields, and a sometimes rancid smelling set of water treatment ponds. Sounds like paradise, right?!

This park is neither exotic, overly scenic, nor free of invasive species, but I have to say, it’s growing on me.  I’d attribute this growing love to toting my camera and dog around so much in it. It seems to me that the more you spend time in a place, the more you like it. In fact, that probably could be said about many things; the more time, the better the appreciation.

Here is my photographic appreciation for Hiller Park:

A West Coast Lady [thanks Katie!] enjoying the January sunshine.

An American Robin gobbling a worm near a treatment pond.

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee hunting for pine seeds.

A female Northern Shoveler getting ready for a dip in a treatment pond.

Goats and geese are fenced in and trim the grass around the treatment ponds.

Enjoying the view.

There are various forms of the Canada goose tribes inside the fence. Most have broken wings, like this fellow, who might be a Aleutian goose. [Supposedly, the white band has to be 10mm wide. I never have a ruler on me!]

The ravens are skiddish.

Sunbeams and Sitkas.

‘Old Man’s Beard’ looks lacy in the canopy.

Mass Commute of Mallards

An Anna’s Hummingbird in December. I saw my first hummer at my feeder today [1.9.2012].

A cold shoulder from a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Some ninja needs to come knock the camera out of my hands when I go for sunbeams again–they’re going to eat up half my hard drive!

Mad River View. I believe that is Pampas grass to the left. An invasive pain in the neck.

Same view at night. I think that’s Venus.

A sunset on the riverbank

That large log has long washed out to sea by now.

A drying sandbar under a fiery sky

A Cormorant enjoying a dip in the river.

Back up on the trails.

Banana slugs cross over the trails often. They don’t withstand feet well. That hole you see is where the slug exchanges gases [breathes] and its feces also exit through that same hole. Rough life.

To sum up this overwhelming bombardment of pixels; the land surrounding the treatment ponds could have remained unaltered forest, or they could have been developed, but instead they serve as one of the rare accessible green spaces. While maybe the wildlife would have preferred untouched land, this little urban park offers something for everyone; little leaguers to dog park goers. And while many may not consciously appreciate the park on the same level as others, I’m sure they have at least one fond memory within its boundaries.  Perhaps enough fond memories are what it takes to keep parks large and small off closure lists!

When Hugging Kills Trees…

“Parks are made to bring the music to the many, but by the time many are attuned to hear it there is little left but noise.” Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, p.159, 1949

Those Who Hug Trees

It seems to be a staple when visiting the Redwood Region of the United States: the family photo with everyone squeezed inside a hollowed out, but still living, tree. Or maybe the photo under one of the area’s drive through trees. Or perhaps one with the kids’ arms stretched out as they try to reach around a 20 foot diameter tree. These shots are especially alluring since the perspective of the tree is better shown this way. It looks HUGE!

Perhaps only one of those images would a “tree hugger” be truly against; I mean, really, how do you experience a huge tree from the interior of your car?! Seriously.  But the rest of the photos are of people showing their admiration of the trees, or even literally hugging the tree, which wouldn’t likely ruffle too many feathers of the most extreme environmentalists, right?  The stereotype of a “tree hugger” is one who is “with” nature and wouldn’t do anything detrimental to Mother Nature. They might even wear hemp clothing and be barefoot, depending on the stereotype in your head. One could imagine, as they walk through the woods, that they would hug each tree they saw and bestow heaps of endearing compliments onto them.

Thank heavens the world doesn’t follow my stereotypes! If all the “tree huggers” were to behave that way, we’d have no trees!

Tree Hugger = Tree Killer?!

I never really thought that hugging a tree could do any damage until I moved here. Sure, maybe that isolated tree out in the woods that doesn’t see but one or two visitors a year wouldn’t mind a hug, but the trees near the trails and pullouts are being loved to DEATH! With some type of odd irony the universe finds humorous, Redwoods, in all their tall and lovely grandeur, have very shallow roots. Very shallow. They are standing on their tippy toes.  Somewhere between 8 and 12 feet deep are as deep as Redwood roots sink.

Any of the shorter trails you walk in the Redwoods, you’ll find what they call ‘social trails’ out to the largest trees. The parks didn’t put these in! People looking to hug every large tree in the forest, or even just a few of the largest, are ‘loving’ the trees to death. Trammeling and trampling over the shallow roots, compacting the soil, killing the plants around the tree, allowing for erosion…the list goes on!  Anyone who knows just a little about plants knows that most need their roots to survive, even the 2000 year old, 350+ ft behemoths of trees that survive multiple wildfires, floods and windstorms.

A Tree’s List of Do’s and Don’t’s

I think the trees could offer up some ideas on how to love them without loving them to death [of course, trees don’t think, just react, so this is all a figment of my imagination! ;) ].


  • Get Out of the Car
  • Take a Walk
  • Take Pictures

Please Don’t:

  • Climb
  • Walk Around the Trunk
  • Carve!

The trees would mostly likely encourage everyone to get out of their cars and hit a trail. It’s of no use to ‘experience’ a Redwood forest from your car.  They can be some of the most silent places on Earth–how can you hear that over road noise?! Not to mention, these trees don’t really want to eat our dust, nor the heavy metals that leach out of our tires, nor our exhaust.

It seems that trees, since they can only react to stimuli and, of course, only very slowly, wouldn’t want people to climb on them. They don’t seem to have the best grasp on the laws of physics, so why tempt gravity and pull on a load-bearing branch?

And no one likes their toes stepped on!

Any while it might not be so much much the case for the Redwoods [since their bark can be a foot thick!], other trees really, really hate it when they are carved into.  Bark is essentially tree skin, keeping out all the infections and bugs that would love to invade the inner parts of the tree. Carving only opens a wound that could be the end of the tree.

"Man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness." Aldo Leopold p.157 The Sand County Almanac



Sunrise in Fall

While not technically the actual sunrise since the Gulf Stream’s warmer water creates small cumulus clouds, the sun rose on another warm day in South Carolina.  A light fog hangs on the horizon.  It’s a little confusing living in a subtropical climate, with the temperatures and peak leaf color making it feel more like October than late November.

The same tree is in both photos. I haven’t taken the time to look it up, but I am surprised that it’s more colorful than the ubiquitous sweetgums. In Indiana the sweetgums are usually the eye-poppers, while here they are ho-hum, a little dull and lacking the spectrum that these ash-like trees have.

Still seems strange to have palms  in a Fall shot.  There will be green all year round, though the shade of green depends on the season. Spring offers more vibrant hues that change into deep, mature greens for the rest of the year.