by Dan Kirk
It’s been 22 days on the water, and Kim is tired, but approaches the estuary with a new energetic spirit that feels different from other places they have stopped to moor; one of wonderment and curiosity. One hundred years ago, in the year 2020, the view of Oakland from the estuary would have been that of the city, of course, and the rolling hills to the east, a kind of blanket of cityscape and hills that meet the horizon. Today, Kim is guided, almost welcomed into the bay by the giant redwood trees that tower over the hills of the east, rising above the city even from miles away. Kim sees these trees for the first time ever and begins to dance, punching the air with excitement. Feeling overcome, Kim softly collapses on the deck, perhaps to let the adrenaline settle. Laying there, Kim stares up at the sky until a pelican flies over, cutting the frame of vision, and they stand up again, this time intentionally tall, with feet firmly planted on the deck and with arms stretched high. Kim asks permission to come ashore.
Lately, I’ve been trying to think less about what the next generation will have to endure, but what they will get to celebrate. In the East Bay, the continued conservation of redwoods in the regional parks between Oakland and Walnut Creek will be historic, in the sense that for once, there will be a region that may resemble the old-growth redwoods that dominated the landscape up until the mid 19th century. The redwoods back then were so tall that they were used as landmark navigational guides for sailors in the San Francisco Bay who used them to avoid the dangerous Blossom Rock (which the Army Corp of Engineers literally had to explode once the navigational redwood trees were logged). Imagine what that kind of magnitude, where the trees reach 25ft in diameter, will do for a child’s imagination; if I thought a small cedar tree grove in a park in Portland, OR was Neverland when I was a child, walking through Redwood Regional Park 100 years from now might be where children look for more vibranium, the magical metal from the movie Black Panther. Even today, this park emulates a cathedral, someplace spiritual and magical. Someplace that makes you look up and notice how the light casts a different color, it may feel cool or warm in a cathedral.
In a cathedral, we think of religion, architecture, the human condition, acoustics, history, etc. Walking under the canopy of a redwood forest may be spiritual, historical and also a place for contemplation, but more so than a cathedral, we learn from redwoods how to be resilient. “Resiliency” is a hot word right now, but so is “Covid-19” and “election” and “fire”, so let’s continue to explore this concept of resiliency and how to build on it. To begin, Coast Redwoods store more carbon dioxide than any other tree on earth. They use that carbon to help build tannins that actually make them fire retardant, which is particularly important because redwood forests could be huge emitters of CO2 if they were also to be impacted by fires (this is already the case in the Amazon, where the forest was once a carbon sink is now a huge CO2 emitter). This is one form of self protection, but it is also protecting the community of trees as well. Speaking of community, when a redwood tree dies, new trees grow in a circle around it and form what is called a fairy ring. Fairy rings are symbolically really beautiful to think about, but also they are extremely functional, as the baby trees have an advantage in surviving because of the existing root systems. Some of the trees in the fairy ring usually are genetically identical to the parent tree. If we keep preserving these forests, think how far back the genetics of a tree can go…thousands of years? That’s very cool to think about.
Some communities, often indigenous communities, speak about eight generations in terms of cultivating cultural traditions from the past, but also for eight generations into the future. What kind of projects, traditions and/or practices are we participating in that are not just for ourselves, or our children or even grandchildren, but for our great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren? This is also very cool to think about. Let us carry some form of resiliency.