Monday, August 20, 2007

Big Trees

Yep, these trees are big. Looky:

This one is the biggest tree in the world, the General Sherman Sequoia:

When you're standing by it -- or rather, by the fence that prevents you from getting too close to it -- it's hard to believe it could be not merely the largest tree, but the biggest living thing in the entire world. How crazy is that? Looking at it, standing by it, somehow, it doesn't seem that big. It's not the tallest tree (it's "only" 275 ft), and it doesn't have the biggest circumference ("only" 102 feet), but all in all it manages to have the highest volume of wood in cubic feet: 52,508. And it's not that it's not impressive, it's just that somehow my brain couldn't really compute that it was that big. I had the same feeling at the Grand Canyon, but for a different reason. I mean, the Grand Canyon does look that big. So big, in fact, that its depth kind of flattens itself out, like the human eye can't quite. . . I don't know, triangulate something of that scope. But the Sherman tree wasn't quite as impressive as I expected.

But what was impressive was just walking through the Giant Forest. The trees in the Giant Forest don't have fences around them like the General Sherman do, and you can get close, and also, they're all around you, making you feel the size of a bug. The overall effect is incredible.

This is all at Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevadas. Sequoia is adjacent to King's Canyon National Park, which is vast and does not appear to be crossed by a single road. I could be wrong, but on the map it doesn't look like it. Being up in the mountains on a day trip, hitting only high-volume tourist sites, really made me want to go on a backcountry trip, which I've done only a couple of times in my life. I always want to start camping again, but we just haven't gotten around to it, and dang it, that must change.

Some basic Sequioa facts: they are not the same thing as redwood trees. A lot of people think they are; they're related but distinct. Redwoods grow only at the coast. Sequoias grow nowhere else on Earth but here in the Sierras, at around 6500 feet. Unlike redwoods. they are brittle and make crap lumber. In fact, when they topple, they tend to bust into a bunch of pieces. (Idiots logged the hell out of them anyway.) They are virtually indestructible. They're highly fire-resistant, they self-heal from forest fires (which are an essential part of their ecology and the main way their seeds are released from their cones) and are totally pest-resistant. The only natural cause of death of a Sequoia is toppling, which is not unusual, since they are really big and have really shallow roots, like redwoods, which are likened to a pin standing on its head.

Here are the roots of a toppled giant (and me and my brother-in-law Perry):

In the 19th century, folks back on the East Coast flat didn't believe reports that trees grew in California with a diameter of 20-30 feet. They didn't even believe the photos. So what do you think people did? They cut down trees and hauled cross-sections all the way across the continent in ox carts. But the cross sections were too dang big for ox carts, so the people had to cut them up and reassemble them. And of course, since they were in pieces, people didn't even believe they were from one single tree! Many of these tree chunks still remain in museums. (Feh.)

Since Sequoia wood doesn't decay, it's impossible to tell the age of a toppled giant. Many such trees are strewn around the Giant Forest, and no one knows how long they've lain there. Many are hollow and they're huge inside:

One was used as a stable and could hold over 20 horses! Twenty horses inside one hollow tree!

I love trees. I read a book recently I keep meaning to blog about -- I keep meaning to write an "Earth's Greatest Hits" about trees, but I haven't gotten around to it -- the books is The Wild Trees, and it's about the botanists who pioneered redwood canopy ecology in the 1990s. Until then, no one had climbed a redwood to see what was up there!!! On a mature redwood tree, the first branches that can bear a person's weight occur at the equivalent of the 20th floor of a building (geez!) so they're, um, not easy to climb. This book goes into the way this group of botanists gradually figured out how to climb them with relative safety (it's still crazy-unsafe. don't try it.) and it's a very exciting book. Read it! There's lots of obsession in it, as well as really cool trees, and it's a love story too. Cool!

Here are Jim and Perry eating ice cream at Lodgepole Visitor Center -- Jim's wearing my sunglasses.

And the very polite trash cans in the park:

Go hug a tree! Ooh, that reminds me of a very lame bumper sticker I saw on a teenager's car here in Flat City. It said, "Tree-huggers suck." What? In what possible vision of the Universe do tree-huggers suck? Tree-hugger-haters suck! Hug a tree-hugger!


Alexandra S said...

Those trees are okay, but the ice-cream!...thats what I want to hear more about. I use to be into trees, (as you know I invented some of the early models of them), but they sort of bore me now. What do they do really except just sit there and fuddle about in their bark? They don't talk or make cupcakes or even have an outlet to plug in a TV so you could sit and watch outside. I don't know, these tree things are a wee bit overrated. And all that talk about how they are the "lungs" for our planet, well, I don't know about you, but I'm breathing just fine without them. I'm not a tree hater, I just think we all need to move on and focus on other things, like mice and mules and mumus.

what'sinyoursoul said...

Wow, that is a Big Tree. And Very Pink Hair - love it! Your new website looks great. Can I interview you about the whole Manic Panic experience??


Sentient Marrow said...

Wow! Thanks for posting the photos and book recommendation. I have always wanted to visit the Sequioa National Park but haven't felt that I was ready for a cross country drive with five kids but seeing your pictures makes me want to drop everything I am doing and just plain go. Trees are amazing.

Sam said...

I bet you felt like a fairy in that forest

Neil said...

Aren't those trees amazing? I remember when Sophia and I met you in Portland, all we could talk about was our drive from LA and seeing the giant trees!

Amber said...

Aww! Sam beat me to it. That is what I was going to say. ;)


Lisa PN said...

Love your blog!
am returning to blogging after about a 6 month hiatus and am just happy to see all that you have been doing!

yep, the ice cream is what got my interest!

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HipWriterMama said...

Wow! Love the pictures of the trees.

tinker said...

Great trees! and ice cream, too!
It's been years since I visited the Sequoias - I remember being just awe-struck by them. I'm not sure they were all that impressed by me though :) They were probably much more impressed with you - now they can add 'pink-crested human' to their life list :-) hope you don't mind the bad jokes - gosh I'm weird in the mornings...Anyway, glad you had a nice visit with them and got out of Flat City for a little while!

megg said...

WOW - incredible! Mark and I just read your post together and wondered about the trees - we hope to see them someday!

I used to do an activity with the kids at summer camp called 'hug a tree.' They were in pairs and one was blindfolded and they were taken to a tree and had to get to know it based on their other senses. Then, taken away from it and unblindfolded they had to find it again. They often would go back to 'their' tree during the next week. Very nice!

Marilyn said...

I have never been to that park...but it's on my 'someday' list. If you ever get down to the neck of the woods I described in the previous comment, go to Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park....where you'll see a similar grove of awesome, but redwood, trees. The cool part is the park if FULL of groves (Stout just being where the biggest ones are). Certain members of my family (who shall go nameless) say with disdain that we live in a tree-hugger which I reply that that's why I live here! :) One of my favorite places here is the tiny redwood grove at the university's arboretum...they seem like saplings compared to what I'm used to...but they feel like 'home.'

Rilla said...

Hey Laini... can't believe you beat me to it... been dying to see those two parks... were going to do it this summer...but... life intervened... now... next year... Can't wait to see them trees. Thanks for the all the info.

When you get around to writing Earth's greatest hits... don't forget to include the Wollemi Pine.

People who think this planet could function the way it does and support human life... without trees... what's with them...? Must've snored through basic biology and missed out completely on wonder and imagination.

the rev said...

just wanted to stop in to say i love you. i must share w/alexandra the full range of ecosystem goods and services that trees provide. :)
best you to you and jimbo.

jihae said...

oh my gosh, you're a tiny little thing compared to that tree! i hope i can make it out there one day, i need to see them with my own eyes.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon said...

At least you know how to take a big tree pic ... put a person in the image.

I don't care for tree pics with cars in the middle - it makes the trunk look smaller.

On this page here:

Largest Coastal Redwood Trees / Photos

The one Lost Monarch is a coast redwood so large, that only 7 giant sequoias exceed it for wood volume.

It's located near the Del Norte Titan coast redwood and El Viejo del Norte coast redwood, also shown on the page and in the albums.


M. D. Vaden of Oregon

Birdzilla said...

Anyone who would spend two years sitting ina tree like JULIA(BUTTERFLY)HILL did is out of the minds and plain stupid