Monday, 26 July 2010

Standing in the shadows of giants

When I’m struggling to describe something, I take pictures. Apparently they speak a thousand words. But taking photographs in a giant redwood forest is hard, so I will have to forage for the words, if they exist, to do it justice.

Redwoods are not like any other tree. They’re unfeasibly tall and straight, but thick, and with twisted, gnarly trunks that look like wrung out fabric or huge cables. They’re grouped together pretty tightly, forcing you to weave in amongst them, stepping past their fallen friends. Never plan to walk through one of these places if you’re in a hurry - it is impossible not to stop at every turn, staring up as they disappear into the sky, and gasping in wonder.




Now I know how Gulliver must have felt in Brobdingnag. Very, very small indeed. It puts your lifespan into perspective too; some of them are well over a thousand years old. For the first couple of centuries of their lives, they're competing for light, and focus all their energy on growing up and out of the darkness. Once they’re clear, they start adding girth - the biggest are up to twenty feet in diameter.




One of the reasons it is so hard to take pictures here, is that the sun doesn't make it through the leaves too often. The smallest shaft of light, if it manages to fight its way through the thick canopy and the huge trunks, has a profound effect wherever it falls. In the darkness, the trees impress with their size and scale. In the light, their colours, their redness, come to life, and the greens of the ferns leap from the floor to complement them. I am drawn to these little enclaves where the sun bathes you in its golden light.






The redwood forests cover vast areas of Northern California. You can camp in them, hike through them, drive through them. (They even have drive through trees, from a slightly less environmentally sensitive age). Driving through the parks, the blacktop or the gravel winds precariously between the trees, and you get the added perspective of the size, not just of the trees and the trunks but of the forests themselves. No lens can convey their breadth. They are never ending, magical, enchanting places, that seem almost other worldly.

Most of the time though, I'm happy just to stand in the shadows of the giants. They possess a majesty and a permanence that humbles, impresses and defies description, in any number of words.

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