There are many complementary things in life: bread and butter; meat and potatoes; love and marriage; and… me and a giant Coastal Redwood tree.
I’m pretty tall. Heck, I used to be almost six feet (I’ve shrunk a little in the last decade). And I do have some interesting foliage (though that is receding at an alarming rate). And normally, like a giant Coastal Redwood, I stand straight and proud like a U.S. Marine, though currently I am shaped like a hundred-and-eighty-pound gourd with a goiter on one side.
Not sure exactly how it happened, but after three celebratory days on the Central Coast, which included driving for hours, sleeping in strange beds, hiking to Point Lobos, consuming more food and wine at Thanksgiving dinner than seems humanly possible, and playing a round of golf in rainy fifty-degree temperature, my back decided it had had too much fun for one trip and went “sproinnnngggg!”
Which unfortunately happened while trying to navigate the Redwood Grove Nature Loop Trail at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park contains old-growth redwoods, some 1,400-1,800 years old, and miles of hiking trails.
“You’re walking like John Wayne looking for lost change on the ground,” my wife said.
Wow! Except for the excruciating pain, how cool was that? I hitched up my jeans on the non-sproinnnngggg side that wasn’t swollen like a redwood burl and curled my lip.
“I never shot nobody I didn’t have to,” I said to her shoes in my best “True Grit” Rooster Cogburn drawl.
I looked up and realized I was talking to the wrong shoes.
“Sorry little lady.”
“Er I mean, sorry Pilgrim.” I forget there are still Hippies in Santa Cruz.
I ambled on as best I could. According to the Redwood Grove Nature Trail brochure, redwoods are rich in tannic acid, which accounts for their red color.
“Are you okay?” my wife asked. “Your face is all red.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m bonding with the sequoia sempervirens. Or maybe it’s because you are walking so fast.”
“Fast! We’ve been passed by two wheelchairs and a Banana Slug.”
“That was a Banana Slug? All I saw was a blur.”
The Banana Slug, a bright yellow, slimy, shell-less mollusk found in redwood groves, including the University of California, Santa Cruz’s campus's redwood forest, has been the mascot for coed teams since UCSC's early years. Seriously! “Go Banana Slugs,” strikes fear into many opposing teams.
“What’s the matter with you anyway? Other than the obvious things I mean?”
“It’s my back. I feel like I might fall over and die right here any minute.”
Ironically, when redwoods fall, they provide homes for insects, which are food for birds and small mammals. They also provide a nutrient-rich garden for new plants.
“You’re too young to become a dead redwood,” my wife said. “Besides we haven’t seen the Fremont Tree yet.”
Pioneer John C. Fremont explored the coast from 1843-1846 and probably camped in the Grove, most likely while the park officials were on a break or something. They named a tree after him that he “might” have slept in. You can crawl into the Fremont Tree, stand up, and look high up into the hollow center.
That is, if you are flexible.
“Mommy, there’s someone stuck in the tree. He said his name is compost.”
After my wife extracted me from the Fremont, we visited one of the tallest trees in the park. It is 270 feet tall (almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty) and over 17 feet wide (almost as wide as an opera singer). Then we headed for the parking lot for the long ride back to Santa Barbara
“One more photo,” I said, laying down and looking up through a burnt tree. Most fires cannot penetrate the 7-12 inch-thick redwood bark, but an intense fire may burn through and hollow out a tree. If sufficient tissue remains undamaged, though, the tree will live.
“Hopefully, I’ll live to be hundreds of years old, huh Dear?” I said from my now permanent prone position.
“Ummmphhhfff,” my wife said, as she dragged me out of the tree, along the path by several Banana Slugs who appeared to be waving tiny pom-poms.