Trees of Life

“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed.” ~Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

When a sketcher is in the woods it’s hard not to sketch trees.

There is something special being at the base of a coast redwood and looking at it massive bole which would take an extended family, with linked hands, to encircle the circumference.

Looking up, following the redwood to it’s crown is literally a pain in the neck! Coast Redwoods, after all, are the tallest trees in the world.

On a Monday morning I hiked out and sketched an impressive specimen of Sequoia sempervirens in Fall Creek State Park, a redwood named the Big Ben Tree.

The Big Ben Tree is a giant amongst many second growth redwoods. The tree stands at one if the highest points on a hiking trail in Fall Creek.

From the trail junction, the tree is impressive. I walked around to the other side and the massive bole was scarred by fire, perhaps many centuries before. Here I wanted to sketch this scar, a record of the tree’s history. Redwoods can live to 1,500 to 1,800 years. They do have a long life line; a very long history.

Sketching is a language that is created over a series of experiences. I have sketched redwoods many times and over time, I have gotten to understand their language. Their shape, mass, contour, and there undefinable essence. This helps me create an artistic shorthand to render the infinite, finite.

A bench view sketched of mixed woods of redwood and Douglas-fir from the end of Shire Way.

The Founders Tree

“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” – John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

Over the past 15 years I have spent much time sketching around my cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains among the redwoods, douglas-firs, big leaf maples, and bay laurels. I have sketched all of the trees but one of these stands above the others. That would be Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwood.

I have always loved sketching coast redwoods and I have sketched them many times and I understand their visual language. For one, they are not too hard to sketch, a straight trunk that reaches up to the sky like a giant sundial. These trees are so massive that when I sketch them, I only seem to capture a small part of them as the tree grows off the page. As Steinbeck noted, “No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree.” I agree with this because I have attempted both, with mixed results. And I love the idea that you can sketch or photograph a subject but never truly capture it’s essence.

The coast redwood is a California native, growing along the coast (as it’s name implies) with it’s northern range just crossing the border into Oregon. In every sense the coast redwood talked about in superlatives. They are considered the tallest trees on planet earth. The tallest specimen is 379 feet high. They are also long lived, living between 1,200 to 1,800 years old. They are also one of the oldest species on earth.

In Paradise Park, most of the redwoods and Douglas-firs are second growth and are not necessarily considered superlatives of their species. The giants of the species are usually found further north. Except for one exception.

This redwood is known as the “Founders Tree” and it is believed to be the largest and tallest tree in Paradise Park. It is 24 feet in circumference and about 200 feet tall. The tree is estimated to be about 350 years old. Just for context, this tree is older than the government of the United States of American by about 100 years.

Your neck gets sore looking up toward the top of the Founders Tree.

The stone marker notes that the the Founders Tree was dedicated on August 12, 1974 and celebrated the foundation of Paradise Park on August 12, 1924. It is certainly a paradise for me in these tough and uncertain times.