I’m woken from deep sleep as my whole wooden hut shakes. It feels as if someone just … shoved it. I’ve slept in a cabin in a forest before and last time it was surrounded by deer as we slept, seeking warmth. They banged it occasionally, I remember. So … I’m not afraid, but I AM wide awake. Immediately. “Hello?” I ask, and pad barefoot to the door. I open it. I’m curious. Madness? Nothing. No chainsaw wielding lunatics. No Bigfoot. Just … mist. Mist rolling over my bare feet on the threshold. I stand and admire the trees through this full-moon fog. They really are majestic, these statuesque giants. Whatever it was that banged me, with a strange peace I allow it to be the unknown and go back to sleep for a few hours. It’s only hours later, and hundreds of miles covered, that I finally find some internet and my nagging suspicion is proven correct. I was woken by an earthquake. 3.2 only, but the epicentre near Ukiah, very very close to where I was sleeping. I’ve never been woken up by an earthquake before.
Yesterday was about the miles. Today, the trees. The morning brings fog again, but I’ve still got a couple of hours to cover so I smash the remaining miles out in the morning, up the disappointingly foggy coast, but heading to the giants.
I can’t complain about the fog. It’s the fog that brings me here, obliquely. The redwoods wouldn’t be here without fog.
These ancient tall red slow beings – they blanket this area. The loggers never made it this far, which is why I had to drive a day from the bay area before the old ones started to show.
But now I’m here among the titans – they live for the fog. It’s the warmth of the climate and the damp of sea mist that has allowed these prehistoric throwbacks to still thrive in a very different climate. They absorb moisture from the air. They grow tall and throw branches high to catch the mist in their soft bark and their needles.
These trees are huge, old and unstoppable. I drive through one of them, where some guy has hacked a car sized hole. It’s still fine. That one, the Chandelier Tree, is 400 years older than Jesus. Next to it is a poem in couplets on a redwood plaque telling us we should love God because trees.
In the surrounding park there is evidence of fire damage. One of the trees has been felled by fire – but just one and it was a huge fire by the look of it. The blackened corpse still lies in the path. All around it the trees stand proud with deeply blackened trunks. “Oh yeah – that fire? I remember that fire,” they say. “Charlie fell over.”
I visit a tree a bit further up – The Chimney Tree. It’s still very much alive despite almost impossibly massive fire damage. The bottom was completely hollowed out by a fire in 1914. You can stand in it and look up through the holes where the smoke came out. I do so.
I was hoping for lunch, but the grill next to it is shut today. Everything is shut. People are recovering after Veteran’s Day.
I’m on The Avenue of Giants but I’ve done absolutely no research so I’m glad there are no crowds. Time is limited and things that are interesting are sure to be signposted, I rationalise.
That’s how I find the Grandfather Tree. The sign for her on the highway is to signs as the Grandfather Tree is to trees. She’s huge.
Grandfather is 24 foot in diameter despite being young for her title, at 1,800 years old or so. She’s astonishing. She is surrounded by wooden carved Dibsney bears, great big yellow banners and bright signage – by all the filth of mankind. You can’t really photograph her from any angle without bullshit being in the photo. The gift shop is shut. Autocorrect would easily fix that last sentence were the gift shop open.
The trees with classical names that I’ve seen so far are all gendered male, and grandfather would imply that as well. But this one feels like a woman, as have some of the others.
I guess that’s to do with the culture at the time they were named. I’d love to know if any of them have older native American names and if so what they are. As ever with this country, the stories of the colonists are plastered on top of the true stories, obscuring them. This guilty history where a developed culture that believed land could be owned met a primitive culture that found that idea of land ownership impossible to comprehend, and took full advantage.
But with that in mind we can call these trees what we want, like the colonists did, and if we do it with enough certainty it’ll stick.
The tree is called Babushka. Babushka. Babushka. Ya ya. Or it should be. Or just Grandmother. The men shouldn’t have a monopoly despite the whole hard wood thrusting up into the sky thing that these long trees inevitably have going on.
Whatever we call her, she’s a bigass tree.