Episode IV: Long Long Ago, In A Galaxy Far Far Aclose…
Standing in the Redwood forest one is at once hit with the sense of being on another world. “It’s like being in Star Wars. Like you’ll see an Ewok jump out at any moment,” he said. I had to agree that when there, in the forest, I too had the same emotion. I could understand what I was seeing only in the context of Science Fiction. Of a world fake and made up by undersexed nerds and teams of CGI masters and electronic sheep that blast fembots, droids yelling “over here!”, and whatever those blue cat monkeys were from that one movie that basically took place in a huge tree that was all computer made. However, this was a real place. There are no giant blue titty cat monkeys. No Spice Worms. No amazing Flubber. No vorpal blades to go snicker snack. This space is real and reached up and all about me. It was alien because I have been cut off and removed and wrapped in comfort and placed far far away from this, another green world.
The Redwood forest had been a hated place of inaccessibility when discovered by Europeans. That there were some inroads made by native peoples was thanks only to their friend, fire, or as the US Park Ranger called it, a “controlled burn” which is modern more correct speak for “slash and burn agriculture” or as I and my friends/friendemies would say, “setting shit on fire.” The first recorded journey through the forest was made by some very angry people who had to not only scramble up and down the usual hills, but came across the huge twisted trunks of trees that had fallen over, perhaps hundreds of years before they had to hack steps into for their pack animals or even saw their way through. Indeed in the small section of the original forest that yet remains one such trunk was at least 11-12 feet tall and 200-300 feet long from root ball to tippy top. I was told by the Park Ranger that this was not uncommon for one falling tree to take with it another or even a small cluster. It was like pickup sticks for Ice Giants.
This was a lone example of the fallen tree and had come down long before the pathway was placed here in 1972. I marveled at this massive space debris log and wanted to blast it with my photon rifle in order to save the sexy space ghost, but thankfully, the Parks Department made an ADA compliant walkway certainly well landscaped for my clumsy and lazy feet.
Modern forests are perhaps what you are used to. They are what I am used to. Today’s woods are simple elegant minimalist clusters. Little woods in the back of the sub development to bungle about until the police take notice, patches unmowed by the neighbor upon which some slender twigs have emerged, or perhaps you as I go to one of the many urban parks and stare at trees in cages or those few large ones that allow some cover and shade from the blinky tussle of the mean streets where you may blast music in relative safety or drink fine wine out of paper cups. A few more may have been to one of our larger parklands, or wilderness areas. The Blue Mountains, Appalachian range, various spots of the Rockies. Unfortunately these too are but reborn woodland that had been for the most part shorn to a nub at some point in our history as man/human/kind searched for substrate from which to feed off of.
This is perhaps truer in the Eastern States of these United States than our Western Brethren and Sisterthren, but for the majority of us weekend warriors, this blogger included, a trip to see Old Growth is a trip to other dimension. There is perhaps but a scant trace of these stands now so small in size as to be called groves, rather than vast wildernesses. In much of New England, again carpeted in forest since the abandonment of large-scale farming in preference for the fields of the Middle West, there is roughly 1-5% of the original woodlands that appear as they did when Europeans/Vikings/Aliens/Egyptians first came to these shores.
If you happen upon a patch of Old Growth as you LARP through the woods, the first thing you will notice is that it looks like a total dump. “What a dump,” you may even say. Young forests, regrowth of even an hundred years are but clean and well kept gardens next to an actual Old Growth forest. We are used to seeing forests where people come through and cut out a few trees here and there, this even happens in “Forever Wild” areas. Then there are places where campers burn the twigs and minor branches or haul them away for various secret reasons. There may be a few trees fallen in the years. Some are smaller trees, not more than poles, while others appear larger, maybe 75-100 feet long. With a little work you can pick your way through the woods should you abandon the official path for a social path or your own.
This is not the case nor an option for actual Old Growth forests. When looking at Old Growth at once the diversity of life is stunning if not subtle in texture and the cut of leaf and vine to the point where it all may look the same to the untrained eye. It is not a charming bed of flowers nor covered in that moss that movies always show when looking at a forest. That place where healer elves find some plant they crush up and put on a wounded Hobbit or hero person with the sword (who will totally hook up with the wise Cis Womyn healer elf). It can be nothing but an indistinguishable carpet of green punctuated by the most fallen branches, trunks in all states of decay, stones, and bullshit. Attempting to wander off of whatever path brought you there, is close to impossible (and not recommended in order to preserve whatever sample of this forest you may come across). Wilderness, authentic wilderness, is so outside of our modern perception as to appear otherworldly. Which is strange… Since this used to be the world. The actual world and we have become so divorced from that actual world that we can no longer comprehend it.
The student of human history will have a new and unbookish appreciation if not newfound respect for those early pioneers who pushed their way into these wilds in order to find treasure, breeding grounds, or future interstate highways as well as the Native Peoples and why fire, in order to clear the land, was the Native People’s friend. The student of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) will also be amazed at the great stride in technology man/human/kind made in learning how to totally cut down every tree they came across, no matter the girth, height, circumference, or location. Of those despicable Redwoods so once encountered and then avoided, today only 5% remain in locations considered Old Growth Redwoods. So small as to form but groves of several few and managed acres rather than the tulgy merkwood that once carpeted the land. Between these groves are roads and these roads connect the islands of Old. Unknown how many of these huge trees were felled to make way for the road to see the trees from the comfort of our car… but some things are best left unthought and disconsidered if not for the sake of your humors at least for the flow of positive affirmative energy you need to get through the day without feeling like an overprivileged grain of meaningless and powerless sand that eats the world in one end and expels it out the other.
The Redwoods are not done justice by picture nor word alone but are a Wonder of The World, should we yet measure those that remain, that needs to be experienced in real time. While even the groves are well trodden and picked through and cut with trails (one grove has 2 miles of official trail and 22 miles of social trails), they yet have much of the biodiversity of the primal forest. Do go there. Off line, away from your Blade Runner marathon, away from iThingies, go into the woods and stand there until you no longer think of Star Wars, until you don’t see the forest as an alien planet, until you no longer imagine the fantasy worlds you have read about or have seen in the movies. Stand there until you realize that this is our planet and that this planet, if we ever let it, can be more wondrous than any planet or galaxy we rocket into space to explore. It is here now. And it is also less far far away.