Place Where You Live:

Santa Cruz, California

Living with redwoods

The place where I live was logged to rebuild San Francisco after the big earthquake. The woods I walk are both a graveyard and a birthing place. Old growth redwood stumps, sometimes ten feet wide, stand like skeletons beckoning my imagination to fill in the rest. Sometimes you can’t see the stump, just its offspring. Clonal sprouts emerge around stumps, and once the stump decays, a “fairy ring” remains, mystically circular. Occasionally, you’ll come across a survivor. They usually survive for their defects – too curvy or twisted for lumber, or on ground too steep to harvest. Or maybe there’s one base but two trunks, split by some unknown spirit. Foresters call them “bastard growth” – and why not? They’re still here.

Loggers are rare like the old growth. Lumber mills have closed and now this is a university town, tree-sitters abound. Parks outnumber working forests, for better or for worse. Teenage redwoods crowd in the space that opened when the grandparents left, making a forest too dark for an understory. The woods could use some help now, and sometimes help is a chainsaw. Cutting regenerates, brings light. There are too many homes and trees for a safe fire, and besides: I’d take a redwood fence over a synthetic one any day.

“You can’t kill a redwood tree even if you try,” the locals here say. With genetic magic in the soil, the trees embody resilience. But when I look at the survivors, a millennium old or more, I think about what my species is doing to time and promises and old sayings. I marvel at the baby redwood sprouts I encounter, but solemnly acknowledge that they won’t live a millennium. Climate change is happening too fast; they won’t have the fog they depend on forever. Neither will humans. Lucky for us, our lifespan is shorter than the redwood’s, so we’ve got at least a few generations of offspring left, more if we act. And me, I’m just grateful that humans and redwoods happen to exist during the same era, and that I migrated here in time to love them.