There are times when a species introduces itself to you – sometimes ceremoniously, but often without fanfare. This is a seminal moment in the life of any naturalist or nature enthusiast. I remember one such feeling way back in 2001 – of being in the company of sage, wise elders – when I trekked in Muir Woods, about 14 miles north of San Francisco.
Redwood trees – these are Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) – besides being dizzily tall (the tallest tree in the park is 258 feet high), are ancient. At an average age of 500-800 years, they are older than anyone we know by name, living or dead. An exhibit in the park displays the growth rings with historical events tagged against them.
Even without the sea fog that blows in from the Pacific Ocean just a few miles yonder, the forest is dark, the canopy way up high, and the floor littered with mulch and deadwood. In parts of the park where old growth is thick, sunlight has not touched the ground for decades, possibly centuries. Moss girdles everything and the ground is slippery with algal slime. The bark is hollow and moist – it doesn’t feel very strong. And there’s this eerie sense of touching something that’s lived for 500 years or more.
Winter brings so much rain that to unwrap your layers here means to entertain a pneumonic chill. There are few birds in the park – the lack of insect life is the cause. Insects are repelled by the tannin secreted by the trees. Owls are said to live here, but I saw little more than Steller’s Jays, Ravens and Wrens. My companions and I trekked in continuous rain all the way up to Mt. Tamalpais hoping all the while to encounter the mountain lions we had read so much about. No such luck.
But we were here in the forest for the trees – my encounter with these lofty sentinels who had seen more time than any of us could imagine stayed with me for a long time to come. I returned from the forest with a strange inner peace.
This is the first post of the Encounter series – first meetings with wildlife and other citizens of the natural world