A couple of weeks back we all journeyed out to northern California, where among other things we took in the mighty Pacific and mighty trees - specifically the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). Such sights drastically confounded my normal sense of scale, and after a little while on the trail I simply abandoned the idea of trying to photograph these trees - and zeroed in on the scenery that was a little closer:
Forest floor, coast redwood grove.
Thanks to a kind tip from the folks at the hardware store in Mendocino, we hit the road to hike among old growth trees that were in the same general size range as the Hyperion tree - recently tweeted by the Biodiversity Heritage Library:
Tallest #tree towers over #StatueOfLiberty http://t.co/O8KRVTffHe Historical record in BHL http://t.co/bfz1fDf3Lx pic.twitter.com/hcQ9cVUxyZ— BHL (@BioDivLibrary) September 1, 2015
It's difficult not to get swept up in the wonder of which tree (was, until 2010) considered the tallest tree on Earth. However, these individual trees are not marked - and really, after about a mile or so in we lost count of the trees that may have been the local champ, as the trees seemed to just get bigger and bigger.
* * *
Upon returning home I began teaching a plant identification class. I suppose I look forward to this more than my new students - some of whom are wading for the first time into the world of plant names. I recognize the challenge of this, and so over the past couple weeks we have started with the basics. I believe that everyone has some intuitive knowledge of naming plants, a knowledge that begins at childhood and accumulates in almost a subconscious way. I think that we often underestimate this lifelong understanding - but having access to these personal memories of the plants of our past is a great foundation for any future explorations in botanic nomenclature.
* * *
All of this plant naming business came to a head today when I read this touching and funny tree-related essay about a recent memorial celebrating the life of the greatly missed writer Alexander Cockburn:
The Alexander Cockburn Tree, with celebrants. Image Credit CounterPunch.
Scientists have verified that this enormous Blue gum tree (Eucalyptus globulus) - near Cockburn's final resting place - has world-record circumference and will be known henceforth as the Alexander Cockburn Tree! It's gratifying to know that to many, this particular (Very Big) tree will now occupy a place in their hearts and memories that goes well beyond a scientific name in a textbook or a random tree in a meadow.
"This is where we walked, this is where we swam..."
- Cuyahoga, R.E.M.