Redwoods On Top Of Redwoods


I found a really cool video today, but before I link to it, some background on how and why I found it.

When I was born, my family lived in a redwood forest in the coastal mountain range of California. I was recently reminded of the place by photos of redwoods — close to the only things that can make me homesick for California.

This is a photo of my dad holding me on the porch of our house.

[Photo Description: A photo of my dad holding me as a baby. My dad is a big guy with black hair, a full black beard and mustache with grey starting to show, a straight nose, and medium brown skin. He’s wearing a white shirt. He is looking at me and smiling. I have only wispy hair of what looks like a brownish color you can’t fully see because of glare, and pale skin. I am wearing a mostly white… something, either a shirt or a dress. I have big eyes, a turned up nose, and my expression is the same as my “default expression” always has been, with a so-called moebius mouth. One of my arms is out to the side, the other seems to be resting on my dad. In the background there is the yellow wood of the porch railing, and a darkened area with a bunch of green plants.]

He used to take me out on that porch at night to listen to the owls.

This place is where my earliest memories come from. They’re not the kind of memories I can describe about later life, but rather the same sort of dense, multilayered awareness that I use to understand cats. They’re about the sense and feel of the place rather than about the categories that people’s minds usually impose on things.

There was one tree out there that my family always called the Mother Tree. It’s a large redwood tree within very short walking distance of our old house there. When I was in college, I did a project on redwood forests and went up there again to take some photos of that tree. It was those photos that got me doing the web searches that helped me find that really cool video.


[Photo description: Photo of a large redwood tree in a redwood forest. Parallel to the trunk of the tree on the left are several things that look like branches, except they’re going straight up and down.]


[Photo description: The same tree as in the last photo. This photo is taken further to the left. So the right side of the photo is half of the tree trunk, and in the center of the photo are those strange up and down branches.]


[Photo description: This is the same tree. Except this time, the view is looking up towards the top of the tree. You can see that those odd vertical branches are connected to the tree by horizontal branches, and that further up, the vertical branches have lots of little horizontal branches coming off of them.]


[Photo description: The same tree. This view is looking more directly up, and what can be seen is a bunch of different vertical branch structures attached to the tree by horizontal branches, and sprouting lots of little horizontal branches of their own.]


[Photo description: The same tree. This view is also looking up, but from a different position on the ground. The colors in the photo are darker since this is taken from the shadowed side of the tree. You can see mostly one vertical branch structure in this one, that looks for all the world like another tree floating suspended in the air by a horizontal branch.]


[Photo description: The same tree with a couple surrounding trees visible. This is similar to the last picture, only darker and out of focus, and from a slightly different ground position.]


[Photo description: The same tree. In this photo, only vertical branches are visible — the ones closest to the ground. Some of them are shaped like regular branches, and some of them are kind of strange and blobby.]


[Photo description: The same tree. Only in this picture, it’s kind of off to the side, and you can see more trees and what looks like the edge to the forest or at least a clearing.]

That tree is amazing by the way, and not just for how it looks. The last few times I visited it, I’d lie down on the various grooves at ground level. It has a feel to it… old and treeish, although I doubt that makes sense if you’ve never met an old, treeish tree. Trees of this sort seem to go in for the same intense, dense multilayeredness that cats do. Only more so.

Anyway, today I got curious about why there were what looked like trees suspended in the air by horizontal branches attached to a bigger tree. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to put that into a web search, even knowing the species of tree. You’d also be surprised how few descriptions of redwoods involve this phenomenon, despite the fact that it’s pretty amazing.

What I finally found was that it’s called iteration: This one tree has trees growing out of it, and those trees can grow even smaller trees, and so on, and they’re all part of the same life form.

And in searching on iteration and redwood trees, I found a TED talk video by a guy whose family are some of the very few people climbing up into the canopy of redwood forests (trees even bigger — much bigger — than the big one I just showed you) and exploring up there. There’s an entire ecosystem up there with animals and plants that have never seen the ground, some of whom exist nowhere else. The video can be captioned through a menu, in seventeen different languages. And there’s a place on the web page that you can click to get a transcript in English.

Here is the video. You can choose the language of the subtitles you want in the dropdown menu that shows up once you start the video.

You can go to Richard Preston on the giant trees to read the transcript. Oooh and he’s written a book called The Wild Trees that is available for Kindle! Three guesses what I’ll be reading soon.

The redwoods may make me homesick, but I also know that like a lot of other experiences, that place is etched into my brain. All I have to do to experience it again is curl up and remember, letting that dense layered quality soak into my body. I don’t have to be able to get out of bed or travel 3500 miles to experience this or any other place I’ve already experienced. I can just be there as fast as I can remember. My memory isn’t visually photographic, but it captures the sensory feel of the place and anything that happened there, better than it captures anything else. It’s like Google Earth in my brain for something far more intense and immersing than pictures.


8 responses »

  1. I haven’t watched this video yet, but I appreciate the pictures. I remember going to California with my mother and grandmother every year for a few years, and stopping at places like Trees of Mystery and I think (but don’t remember for sure) 1-2 other Redwood-related tourist locations. I have a lot of nostalgia for the forest because of those trips, although I don’t recall actually going anywhere that wasn’t set up for tourists in the first place.

    Thank you for posting this.

  2. One of my favorite pictures of you was taken under the Mother Tree with one of your brothers holding you. That tree was so massive it seemed to have its own gravity and the canopy was wondrous and felt so protective. It was like walking into another world to sit at it’s base and it exuded an amazing tranquility. I am wondering if you have that photo.

  3. Wow. Not only do I not have that photo, I am not sure I have ever seen that photo before. Maybe it’s one you guys have negatives or slides of? I’m not sure I’ve even seen a photo of Shane or Jeremy holding me.

    You are completely right about the way it feels to be under that tree. It’s really got a personality.

  4. You were pretty young…just a baby….but the picture while not showing the height of the Mother Tree somehow captured it’s tranquility and strength. I will start going through boxes of pictures and if I can find it I will email you a copy. It was Jeremy, who was just a young boy, who was holding you and I think he was sitting on the base of the tree, on one of the massive roots, dressed in jeans, a tee shirt, sneakers and a billed cap. There was water there…a small pond and the place was surrounded by trees and was wonderfully secluded… a rarefied atmosphere indeed.

  5. These pictures of the tree are so beautiful. Each could be fantastic to have hanging on the wall as an arts poster … A collage of them all could also be very beautiful and calming. The tree visually conveys a sense of peace, patience & presence, silent strength and ‘being around through many ages’.

  6. Pingback: The Mother Tree At Ground Level. « Ballastexistenz

  7. Hi Amanda. My name is Stacy. I have twin boys with severe autism. They just turned 7. Marty and Allan. Marty is my tricky guy much less social then Allan. Both very interesting and loveable fellas. Anyways I just wanted to say thank you for all the videos you’ve posted. It was along time ago now I saw your interview on tv…it just made me so happy. I finally tracked down your videos and now obviously your blog. I was skimming down before heading off to bed when I noticed you have these beautiful photos of trees and I had to smile. There’s not alot I know about Martins interests because he only uses verbal communication for needs. I know one thing about my sons interests aside from his constant state of activity and that he LOVES trees. He touches each one where ever we go. I know when we go out we all have to give Marty time to say hi to the trees. He looks up in them some times wraps his arms around them. I know his fav trees they are pretty old. I’m in the midist of making him a tree for his bedroom since I gathered he likes the texture…really loves looking at those branches. It’s very nice to see someone else who loves them the way my beautiful Martin does. Again thank you.

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