Saturday, August 01, 2015

Silent sovereigns of the forest

In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck portrays the physical and emotional grandeur of the great West Coast trees:

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. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago into the coal of the carboniferous era. They carry their own light and shade. The vainest, most slap-happy and irreverant of man, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect. Respect--that's the word. One feels the need to bow to unquestioned sovereigns.

And it persists even after their death. In a welcome break from hours of discussion about patient harm and clinical process improvement, our Telluride scholars made a visit to the Petrified Forest in Calistoga. There we saw massive trees that had been blown over by the St. Helena volcanic eruption 3.4 million years ago. Two-thousand-year-old trees were felled in an instant, then slowly petrified in the resulting ash.

Branch holes remained where limbs had been torn away by the volcano's force.

Rock-hard age rings, likewise, show the years of growth.

Even in their petrified form, these 300-foot trunks held us in awe. Steinbeck says:

There's a remote and cloistered feeling here. One holds back speech for fear of disturbing something--what? Can it be that we do not love to be reminded that we are very young and callow in a world that was old when we came into it? And could there be a strong resistance to the certainty that a living world will continue its stately way when we no longer inhabit it?

3 comments:

Alice Ye said...

I've enjoyed reading the excerpts from Travels with Charley. I read it a few years ago and I still think about it.

Mitch said...

Great post. I am from California, and the redwoods never cease to awe and amaze me.

Carole said...

Pleased the Telluride scholars were gifted with a little piece of heaven on earth, it is as beautiful and grand as Mr. Steinbeck shares.