Sunday, November 25, 2012

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

I don't quite know where to begin this blog post. I went to Humboldt Redwoods State Park over the weekend to do some tree hunting. I left Friday afternoon and returned Saturday evening. I have made it a goal to attempt to find and photograph every redwood in this one particular location that has a circumference at breast height of at least 40 feet. I think I am just about finished, probably a couple more trips and I will be able to say that the goal has been accomplished.
(Bear: Humboldt Redwoods State Park above)

There seems to be some sort of change occurring within my psyche that I'm a little worried about. I have always felt very comfortable in the wilderness, perhaps more so than any city or urban area. I've always felt a sense of comfort and confidence with this realization. For some reason, anxiety and fear seems to be getting the best of me lately. I'm not sure if it's because of problems occurring to many folks around me at the moment, work stress, Continental Divide prep stress. For whatever reason, it seems to be growing exponentially. It was with a sense of anxiety, dread, fear, and excitement that I drove up to Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Friday night.
I was also worried about spending the night under the redwoods again. I have mentioned before that I don't sleep well here for some reason. My dreams tend to be extremely vivid, and I did not want a repeat of the nightmares that I had last time I visited. I knew all the stress and anxiety would be gone as soon as morning arrived, but I had a whole night to get through first. I arrived well past dark. As soon as I opened my car door, it was like being in a different world. The tall trees towered above me, draped in mist. The sound of water gushing filled my ears. The air was extremely damp and cold. I grabbed my gear, my headlamp, and my backpack and trekked through the forest to my usual camp spot.
Chinook salmon in creek (above)
While walking through the dark forest, my headlamp illuminated many psychedelic mushrooms. "What a forest!" I couldn't help thinking over and over again as I made my way to camp. I arrived at my usual spot about 10 minutes later. What a difference a couple months make! The ground was completely saturated, the creek was rushing at a quick pace now, noisy, and full. I marveled at a misty rainbow circling the moon, just above the black, towering redwoods. Waves of anxiety flooded over me every few minutes. It was breathtakingly beautiful and majestic, I thanked God for allowing me to behold part of His creation. I felt humbled.
Giant mushrooms on rotting Douglas Fir (above)
After I set up camp, I walked down to the creek. I still couldn't shake the feeling of dread. Of course, thoughts of redwoods falling onto my camp entered my mind again. I tried my best to fight off those negative thoughts. The fog was becoming more dense now. Everything was glowing and sparkling, reflecting the moonbeams. While I continued to marvel at the moon and the redwood canopies, I heard a deafening splash a few feet in front of me. I nearly shit myself. I pointed my headlamp into the creek and saw two ENORMOUS salmon fighting the current. "WOW!!!" was all I could muster. One of the fish must have been at least 2 to three feet long. I couldn't believe such massive sea creatures where swimming up a creek so shallow.
45 feet, 5 in cbh (above)
It appeared the fish could not see me standing on the riverbank in the dark. They seemed curious about the light from my headlamp shining into the water. They swam right up to the bank, showcasing their incredible size and colorful scales. I could imagine the angst it must require for these fish to battle the currents the way they were, in the dead of the night. The salmon turning red as it becomes crazed with the notion of reproduction. The face of the fish becoming hooked, gnarled, and gruesome. Thrashing wildly about in the currents just before giving up its life. Again, I felt humbled. It was almost too much. I couldn't help feeling like an intruder, that I was invading the privacy off this ancient forest. These were powerful natural forces that deserved the utmost respect. I walked back to my shelter and attempted to calm my nerves yet again.
47 feet 11.5 in cbh (above)
Thankfully, I brought a book. This seemed to help tremendously. It was still too early to go to sleep, and I was not hungry for dinner. I chose to sit under my tarp and read. Quickly, my mind and my senses began to calm down, and not long after, I became drowsy. As I bedded down for the night, I noticed that it was quite cold out. My sleeping bag was not enough to keep me warm, so I threw all my extra clothes into it for extra insulation. Again, it took a while to fall asleep. I was grateful for the noise of the creek and the light of the moon. I anxiously awaited the oncoming dreams. Every now and then, I was jolted awake by the sound of the salmon. At times, the thrashing from the fish was like a Sasquatch stomping through the creek. Eventually, I fell asleep and before I knew it, morning had arrived.
When I awoke, all of the previous night's anxiety was gone. I was extremely grateful for a nightmare free sleep. My dreams were vivid, but nothing negative. I warmed up a can of soup for breakfast and watched the salmon in the creek. Fog covered the redwood canopy. After finishing my soup, I decided to walk to another spot to see if salmon more more active there. After watching the creek for ten minutes, I looked downstream and saw what appeared to be a large black dog walking out of the woods. It didn't take long to realize that it was a bear! For some reason, I didn't think there would be any bear in these woods, even though it is bear habitat. He seemed to be walking down to the creek for a drink or maybe to enjoy the fish harvest. The bear did not seem to see me, and I became a bit alarmed when it continued to walk upstream towards where I was standing. Not wanting to bother him or her first thing in the morning, I hiked back to camp and packed up. Again, I was humbled by another magical encounter in the redwoods.
43 feet, 3 in cbh (above)
I took my time packing up in the morning. I was looking forward to continue my search for big trees, but there also seemed to be so much to observe and enjoy otherwise. I was in no rush. By the time I finally reached my destination, it was well past 10:00. I had to retrain my eyes to look for the giants of the forest.
As always, there were plenty of fantastic trees. I tried to enjoy the presence of the big ones this time around. Usually, I spot them, get a quick measurement, take a photo, record the numbers in my notebook, and then search for the next one. This time I tried to spend a little extra time with each tree with mixed results. By late afternoon, I was back to my hurried undisciplined ways.
45 feet, 9 in cbh (above)
I am looking forward to my next trip to this particular section. Sometimes, some spots feel like "hot zones," with many giants living in one area. It felt like I was in the middle of one when I decided to turn around and head back to my car. It felt like it was getting late. I was already pretty exhausted, and didn't want to have to drive all the way home in the dark.
After reaching my car, I came across a scene. There was one particular tree that tends to get a lot of attention. There were several teenagers attempting to climb up the tree in rock climbing fashion. Another kid had a bow and arrow, as if he were trying to shoot the arrow over a branch or something. They didn't look like they were actually planning on climbing the old beast. I couldn't help but think that sometimes we love our natural places to death.
43 feet, 3 in cbh (above)
When I arrived at my car, it was only 2:45! I thought for sure it was probably like 5:00 or something. It gave me plenty of time to eat an early dinner, and take a nap before hitting the road.
Some trees flare out at the bottom like the one above. This tree was enormous already. It had a cbh of 54 feet 5 in. (above)
Before heading home, I had to give thanks in my mind to all of those who have worked and donated time and resources to save these forests. It's true, there is very little old growth redwood remaining. It's also true, that there is just enough to allow for an incredible, unforgettable experience. Is there enough for an overall, healthy ecosystem? I don't really know. Yesterday's experience was enough for me to feel completely lost in space and time however. I will also say that this time of year is the absolute best for an authentic redwood experience.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


 I went for a wet, rainy hike in the redwoods yesterday to check on the status of the mushrooms. They definitely are popping out of the earth now, several different types making appearances.
 These mushrooms pictured above were baseball to softball size, growing at the base of a large redwood. Hiking in the redwoods in the rain is as enjoyable as hiking in the Sierra in the sun. It's idyllic I think.
 The rain tends to keep the visitors away as well. Not all of them, but enough to enjoy a lot of solitude on a Saturday. The newts also are now walking around again. The rain helps keep them moist and allows them to travel around without fear of drying out. They are shy creatures, I tried getting several photos, but they kept running for cover in slow motion, as soon as they'd spot me eye-balling them.
 Mushroom hunting is much like tree hunting, in that everything seems to melt into the background when on the search. I barely recall seeing any of the trees. My focus was on the ground.
 The creeks and streams are slowing filling up with water again. Some spots the puddles in the dry stream beds are getting larger. With a little more rain, I imagine the puddles will eventually converge and the dry streams will begin flowing again.

As far as I can tell, it seems like we are getting ample rain so far this year. Let's hope it continues...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Richardson Grove/Chinook Salmon

 Grandfather Tree (above)
Yesterday I decided to spend some time walking around Richardson Grove. The grove is located right near the Humboldt/Mendocino county line, along highway 101. I have driven past this grove numerous times on my way to Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Highway 101 actually meanders right through the heart of the grove. If you may recall, Richardson Grove had been in the news this past year. There was a highway widening project that was proposed, that had the potential to seriously alter, or impact the giant trees that currently grow right next to the highway. The project has been defeated for now.
 My immediate impression of this grove was its fragility. It was a strange sensation to be walking in the unique redwood ecosystem, but to be so close to the human influence. The noise of the highway was constant, the park seemed almost desolate, paths in disrepair, plastic taping laying on the ground, garbage laying here and there, small construction projects unfinished, educational signs corroding. Parking areas and park roads empty of vehicles. It is officially "off season."
 A sign with a quote from John Muir really hit home, except the last sentence was omitted. Perhaps it should have been included. It read:
"God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools."
Despite the fragile nature of the grove, there are some fantastic trees growing there. Some of the largest trees remaining were the ones growing right next to the highway. After walking around for a while, I decided to walk down the Eel River, which flows right next to the highway and the grove.
 The thought occurred to me that this is the time of year one could expect to see salmon heading upstream, or at least in the old days. In my mind, I imagined watching the Eel squirming with life, as the salmon were beginning to spawn. However, after five minutes of staring into the river and seeing nothing, I concluded that the river was dead, that another sad chapter of these redwood forests was being written.
Chinook salmon (above)
 I was wrong. I walked to a section of the river that was quite shallow, where the current was moving at a rapid pace. All of a sudden, I heard a splash, and saw what appeared to be a tail fin thrashing about in the river, the fish fighting the current as it was swimming upstream. The fish had a pinkish tint to it, and was ENORMOUS! Just then, I started to see a few more, all of them hanging out in places where the current was really moving, all fighting to swim upstream. More thrashing and splashing. The salmon! They are back!
 There is something extraordinary about witnessing these huge salmon returning to their spawning grounds. Other than the Kokanee salmon in Tahoe, which were introduced to the lake in the 1940's, the only other salmon I have seen were near the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border while hiking the PCT. That was an incredible sight to behold as well. As far as I know, these salmon are the real deal, spending their lives in the Pacific Ocean, and returning to the river to reproduce and then die. They definitely had the size to prove it. I'd imagine one fish could feed a person for a few days.
 Here is an article describing the return of the salmon to the Eel River that I found yesterday. Thanks to restoration efforts, the fish are making a comeback. We need to hear good news, and this is good news in my opinion. It is my belief that the health of these ancient cycles are necessary for the overall health of all living organisms on this earth.
 After spending an hour or so observing the salmon, I returned to Richardson Grove and found a hiking trail. Eventually, I found a trail called "Lookout Point."
As the trail began to wind up the hillside, the traffic noise began to lessen and the silence of the forest returned ever so slightly. The hillside contained a nice mixed forest of madrone, redwood, and Douglas Fir, amongst a few others.
 I scoured the ground for mushrooms and found a few new types making their first appearance of the year. Below is a type of choral fungi.
 The sun appeared to be setting, and I was getting pretty hungry so I decided to call it a day and hike back to my car. My overall impression of Richardson Grove is this: It's a great place to see some incredible trees if you happen to be passing through the area and have time to spare. I'd also imagine its a comfortable grove for someone who prefers elements of civilization. The Eel River is awesome, and the parking areas give one a chance to get out of the vehicle and explore the river banks a bit.
If you want an authentic redwood experience, I would not suggest Richardson Grove. The comfort that aspects of civilization give a person, take away from the silence and feeling of eternity that a more remote grove has the potential to give.
Nonetheless, any day with the redwoods is a good day. Redwoods, salmon, and mushrooms makes for a memorable experience.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mushrooms/Montgomery Woods

 I drove out to Montgomery Woods Friday morning just after our latest rain storm. I had the morning off from work so I was able to spend a couple hours looking for mushrooms. They are still just beginning to pop out of the earth, and I'd imagine in the next few weeks, "mushroomfest" will be upon us...

Monday, November 5, 2012

Humboldt Honey

The tallest Maple tree in the world was recently measured and discovered by Mario Vaden along the Avenue of the Giants. The tree is growing alongside redwoods. Here's an article about his discovery.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mushroom Season Has Begun!

 Mushroom season has begun! We are about two weeks into the rainy season here in Northern California. I drove up to Montgomery Woods today to see if any mushrooms were growing. It took a little while to adjust my eyes to the mushroom hunt again. At first I couldn't see anything. It was like I needed to re-train my brain. Suddenly, the mushrooms began to reveal themselves, and my eyes were opened. Most of them were very very small. Above is a picture of a puff ball of some sort. I only saw two of them and they were growing right next to each other. At first, I didn't know what it was. I picked up one of them, and it completely detached itself from the ground. It actually didn't even appear to be attached in the first place. It was like a little piece of plastic. At first I thought it was an acorn or something. As soon as I touched what I thought was the acorn, the ball deflated and the spores blew in my face.
I had a sense of deja-vu when I walked to the main redwood grove. Once again, there was a couple hiking down, just as I was hiking up. The man said,
"Excuse me, is this all there is?"
Knowing exactly what must have happened, I asked the man and his wife,
"Did you enter the main grove, or did you stop at the top of the hill?"
The man answered, "We stopped at the top of the hill, there are no signs anywhere."
"You have to walk down the hill and enter the grove," I responded. "That is where the big trees are."
The couple were visiting from the Bay Area, and were originally from Russia. I walked with them to the top of the hill and told them a little about the woods and encouraged them to hike the loop. About a half an hour later, I heard someone call my name from the other side of the grove. Once again, it was the couple asking for directions. I decided to wait for them and walk with them the last half hour back to the parking lot. I was glad they were hiking the loop. Sometimes though, I forget just how overwhelming the redwood forest can appear to someone visiting for the first time. They were excellent hiking companions. I tried to answer whatever questions I could, and the man's wife, a music instructor, gave me some suggestions for some music to listen to. Hiking under the redwoods is fantastic, connecting with strangers on the trail is awesome too.

I am going to attempt to identify the following mushrooms. Please don't take my word for it, I am no expert by any means. Do your own research!
1.) Earth star
2.) Marasmius
3.) Amanita Frostiana 

A Few More Thoughts On "The Golden Spruce," by John Vaillant

The following passage in "The Golden Spruce," by John Vaillant is poignant. It could be argued that the following mentality is what has given us all the comforts in life that we enjoy today. The question must be asked whether or not we, as humans on this earth, can continue this state of mind and still thrive on this planet:

     Even Bill Weber, who has only been working in the woods since the late 1970's, expressed astonishment: "I never dreamed the old growth would be finished," he said. Much of the wood he is cutting today would have been scoffed at by his parent's generation. "Twenty years ago, we'd have looked at the wood we're into now and say, 'What the hell are we doing in this shit?'"
     One of Weber's colleagues, Earl Einarson, a fifty four year old tree faller, expressed the logger's conundrum as honestly as anyone. "I love this job," he explained, gesturing toward the wild chaos of the old growth forest he was in the process of leveling. "It's a challenge to walk into a mess like this and get it looking civilized." (This child of the atomic age would have won a sympathetic nod from any seventeenth-century settler.) Einarson paused for a moment and Weber, his supervisor, looked over his last falling cut while a big glossy raven lighted on a nearby branch that would no longer be there in another twenty-four hours. A hundred yards away, an unknown and unnamed waterfall tumbled seventy-five feet into a shimmering pool. Einarson had seen elk pass through the day before, his partner noted the apparent decrease in deer and speculated that it was due to predation by wolves and cougars, both of which are abundant here. Einarson picked up his train of thought: "Another reason I like falling," he said, "is I like walking around in old growth forests. It's kind of an oxymoron, I guess-to like something and then go out and kill it." Like a hundred generations of forest dwellers before him, Einarson is also a hunter and a mushroom picker, and in the end he compared his work to hunting: "I've tried taking pictures (of animals), but it's not quite the same because you're not part of it."

Sobering Statistics From "The Golden Spruce," by John Vaillant

Here is a passage from the book "The Golden Spruce," by John Valliant that I found sobering:

What the chain saw and its mechanical attendants-the bulldozer, log skidder, and self-loading logging truck-have done is to reduce the great trees of the Northwest down to objects that a man of average size and physical condition can fall, buck, load, and transport. Today, a tree ten feet across the butt can be felled in ten minutes flat, and bucked up in half an hour. Afterward it is a matter of moments for a grapple yarder-essentially a huge mobile claw on caterpillar treads-to pick up the multiton logs and load them onto a waiting truck (no need for a spar tree anymore). In theory, then, a 200 ton tree that has stood, unseen, for a thousand years and withstood wind, fire, floods, and earthquakes can be brought to earth, rendered into logs, and bound for the sawmill in under an hour-by just three men. In 1930 it would have taken a dozen men a day to accomplish the same thing. In 1890 it would have taken them three weeks, and in 1790 it would have been a matter of months-assuming they were even able to fell the tree.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Few Thoughts on "The Golden Spruce," by John Vaillant

Lately, I have been struggling to make sense of this life on earth, what it all means, the irony, the madness, the dual natures, the glory, the wonder etc, etc., especially with our relation to the environment. I am so grateful for the times I have been able to spend in natural places, especially out here in California. Unlike the east coast where I grew up, the landscape can still be observed with the eye the way it was originally designed by the Creator. Perhaps my eye is just more aware. Back east, it definitely seems harder to recognize landscapes and envision what it originally looked like. Planted trees, roads, stores, carefully landscaped lawns and parks become the norm. It can feel like it's the way the landscapes have always looked.

Currently, I am reading a book called the "Golden Spruce," by John Vaillant. It's a fantastic book that goes into detail describing the development of the Pacific Northwest, encounters with natives and early Europeans, the early days of trade, westward expansion, the logging industry, and one logger's transformation from logger to environmental activist who eventually, in an act of protest, cuts down a sacred golden spruce tree in an attempt to focus awareness on the clearcutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest. Anyhow, there is one particular passage in the book I wanted to share that summed up the feelings I have experienced since moving to Northern California. Basically, over the last year or so, I have found myself asking, "how in the world did we manage to cut down so much forest?" My travels have led me to observe only a small patch of land in Northern California. This cutting has occurred across the entire country and Canada. Here in redwood country, the scars are still visible, where in the east, not so much. It creates a feeling of both awe and sadness, at least for me. Here is the passage in "The Golden Spruce" I want to share:

Al Wanderer could have been speaking for all woodsmen throughout history when he looked back over his own empty corner of British Colombia and said, "Good God, I didn't think it was possible to log this much." Anyone who has traveled in the woods of the Pacific Northwest would know exactly what he meant. Even now these forests have an infinite feel-until you see the clear cuts and realize how extraordinarily efficient humans can be at altering the landscape. Out here, the empty spaces still look like wounds, like violations of the natural order, but back east-that is, from Chicago to Babylon-we find this hard to visualize because the clear cutting happened generations before any of us were born. Treeless expanses look normal to us-"natural," even. We tend to look at time in a myopic, human centered way, but trees offer an alternative means of measuring our progress (as well as our regression). Growing at a rate somewhere between stalagmites and human beings, forests can serve as a kind of long term memory bank, revealing things about our environment, and even ourselves, that only our great-great-grandparents could have told us. The short version of the forest's message was well paraphrased by historian John Perlin: "Civilization has never recognized limits to its needs."

Thursday, November 1, 2012