Posted from Glen Ellen, CA
Standing among the stately and majestic coast redwoods in the Russian River Valley’s Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Guerneville is a humbling, awe-inspiring experience.
These ancient trees are the tallest living things on Earth. The stats: Live to 500-1,000 years old. Grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet. Stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some exceed the norm, towering above 350 feet and surviving over 2,000 years. At more than 310 feet, the tree named Parson Jones is the tallest in Armstrong Woods. It’s 13.8 feet in diameter and approximately 1300 years old. The oldest tree at an estimated 1,400 years old is the Colonel Armstrong.
We walked along the Pioneer and Discovery trails, which meandered through the base of the grove. Signs along the way urged visitors to maintain quiet, all the better to take in the serene glory of the trees and reflect upon our own relative significance in the world.
To help convey the longevity of these primeval life forms, a cutaway cross section of a tree trunk lay on its side, exposing the hundreds of fine rings, one for each year of its existence. Small metal plates were positioned accordingly, attesting to the eras the tree was alive: 948 germination; 1066 William the Conqueror; 1300 Aztec Civilization in Mexico; 1492 Columbus discovered America; 1620 Pilgrims arrived; 1861 American Civil War; 1906 San Francisco earthquake. That last event caused the tree to topple.
Although the redwoods, which need a moderate climate and moisture from the daily fog to survive, look impervious, they are especially susceptible to wind because they have a shallow root system and no taproot to anchor them securely to the ground. We saw dozens of fallen trees, a reminder that nature has its own way.
According to one of the signs on the trail, the trees, amazingly, have remarkable fire-resistant qualities that allow them to withstand most fires. Their thick, fibrous bark keeps all but the hottest fires from penetrating them. When fire does reach the core, it creates a cavity. The trees adapt to the hollow by strengthening the base on either side. Most mature trees show some evidence of having been burned. Fortunately, the last wildfire in Armstrong Woods occurred in 1923.
Fire is indeed destructive, but it’s also a natural part of the forest ecology and promotes revival and reinforcement. What’s more threatening is logging. In the late 19th century, loggers cut down redwood forests at an alarming rate. In response, environmental groups sprang into action to preserve and protect the redwoods. The fight continues today.
It was a special pleasure to spend time with these gentle giants.