Friday, June 6, 2014

The Grove of Titans

As I said earlier, although we (especially Sam) were certainly aware that the Grove of Titans was somewhere in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, we were content just to be close to them and think about how big and awe-inspiring they must be, compared to the relatively-small-but-still-enormous trees in the rest of the forest. As we were hiking one of the trails, we took a rest to feed the baby and let the girls go to the bathroom. Sam and Sebby took them off into a more private spot, and as Sam started to walk the girls back to us, he saw an enormous tree trunk up above him. "That's the biggest thing I've ever seen," he told Sebby. He wanted to get a better look, so he scrambled through the underbrush for awhile until he was next to the tree trunk. He paced off its width and guessed it was about 26 feet across. After we'd been waiting a long time (wondering what on earth Sam was up to!), Sebby came running back to us all excited. "Daddy found one of the Titans!" he said. I thought it probably wasn't one of the actual Titans, but we always like to see a big tree, so the rest of us got to our feet and went with Sebby. Now that he'd explored the area a bit, Sam could see an easier way for all of us to get to the tree without beating our way up the slope, so we all followed him until we got to the gigantic tree. Once we got up close, it was pretty obvious that this was a REALLY big tree---bigger than any we'd seen so far.
We spent a good while looking up at the huge spreading branches and marveling at the sheer size of the thing. It was amazing! Beautiful, stately, and ancient. We talked about how many things had changed since this tree started growing---probably over 2000 years ago. It's very humbling to be in the presence of such an enduring thing.

After enjoying the tree for a long time, we finally headed back to the trail, and walked to our car talking all the way about what an amazing stroke of luck it had been, finding the huge tree. Though we'd been totally happy with our visit before, we felt so extra-happy to have found a Titan---or at least a Titan-sized tree.

Back at our hotel that night, Sam started looking online for pictures of the Titans, to see if the tree we had found really had been one of them. As I said, the location of the Titans is a closely-guarded secret, but you can find out lots of things on the internet and there were pictures and clues from others who'd been lucky enough to find the Grove. Sam was so absorbed in what he was reading that I started doing my own searches, and both of us were soon caught up in story after story about people's quests to find the secret trees. We discovered that the secrecy was controversial, and there were strong feelings on both sides, some people arguing that the trees must be kept hidden, and all identifying clues removed from descriptions of the Grove, so that the trees would remain protected from vandals and careless crowds. Others thought that since people ARE hunting for the hidden trees, and will continue to do so, the Park Service should simply build a trail, to minimize damage by people crashing around without knowing where they're going. Still others argued that the trees belong to all of us, that there shouldn't be some exclusive "club" of people who can view their amazing beauty, and that, while the location shouldn't be publicized in the park itself, anyone willing to put in a bit of effort to find clues online should be able to visit the Titans in person. I think I come down closest to the side of that last group, myself, but all the arguments made my head spin and I'm still not really sure what the best solution is. [Since there are some who advocate so strongly for secrecy, I have been a bit vague in my descriptions here, but if you are going to the State Park and you want to know how to find the Grove of Titans, email me and I will give you details so you can find it yourself! It's one of the most amazing places I have ever been.]

Sitting in bed at the hotel, Sam was making moaning and argh-ing noises. "What is it?" I asked, concerned. "We were right there!" said Sam. From all his reading, he had discovered which Titan we had found. It was the one called the Fused Titan, and from its location he had pieced together where the rest of the huge trees must be found. "We were so close! Why didn't I just look around more? We were right on the edge of the Grove of Titans! Argh, I can't believe it. How could we have just turned around and left?!"

We hadn't planned to go back to the park, but if we got up early the next day, we'd have a few free hours. "Okay. Let's go back," I said. "I'm sure I can find the other trees if we do," said Sam. So it was decided. Fully into the spirit of the thing now, we both scoured sources online for clues. Sam was even more excited than I was. Where before he had written the Grove off as a hopeless idea, now he felt like seeing it (something he'd always dreamed of) was an actual possibility, and his excitement was infectious. Neither of us could go to sleep---we were too worked up, like little kids on Christmas Eve. It was like we were on a treasure hunt and we'd just caught a glimpse of the treasure. When Goldie woke up around 6 a.m. Sam practically sprang out of bed to wake the other kids and get them dressed.
It was such a beautiful, sunny, quiet morning. We didn't pass any cars on the way to the park, so we felt like we were the only ones there. We were so excited!
When we got to the right area, I sat down with the little girls, while the boys went off exploring, with strict instructions to stay within shouting distance and walk carefully around the tree root systems. "Look for anything that looks BIG!" we said. The girls and I sat and enjoyed the bird songs and the warm morning sunlight, and the feeling of quiet that always pervades places like this, even with the rustlings of birds and animals nearby.
I was content to let the boys make their discoveries, though I confess I felt a little envy because I love scrambling around in the woods as much as the next person. But as I sat looking around, I saw a huge tree a ways off. All the trees look giant and it's hard to judge size from afar, but this tree looked pretty substantially bigger than anything around it:
So when the boys came back, all breathless and dirty from their exertions, I pointed it out. "What about exploring over that way?" I said. Off they went, and in a few minutes, they were back. "It's a Titan!" said Sam, who had seen enough pictures by this time to know the trees like old friends. "I think it's the Lost Monarch!"
I wasn't going to be left behind now that we were really on the right track, and Goldie was happy enough in the backpack, so all of us started picking our way carefully through the ferns and bushes, going slowly so we could help the little ones over fallen logs or across muddy streams of water. We felt like Victorian Explorers going through the deep dark jungle, and some of the plants seemed just as giant and exotic!
The tree we thought was the Lost Monarch was truly amazing. As we got closer, it loomed up huger and huger! Sam knew all the statistics---26 feet in diameter; around 42,500 cubic feet of wood! It's the largest coast redwood in the world!  Breathtaking. I think it has such a beautiful silhouette as it tapers skyward!
Pressing on through the forest, we soon found another Titan. This "family sized" tree is called El Viejo Del Norte--the old man (of the North?). I love his long nose, or claw? reaching down toward the ground.
Once we got used to what we were looking for, we started finding tree after tree. Some were Named Titans, old friends that we recognized from photographs, and others were just enormous strangers. I read that the Grove of Titans holds ten of the world's largest trees, but I only know the names of five, so these other huge ones remain unidentified (by us, anyway). This (above) was a tree Malachi found, which I think he calls The Titan Twins. Named for his cousins Adam and Daniel, of course. The picture shows Abe in front of it.
This is another tree we don't know the name of. That tiiiny brown speck to the right of the tree is Sebby. He calls this tree "The Old Hare." Isn't it a beautiful ferny hillside?
And this was an interesting thing we noticed---the wavy lines on the redwood roots. You can just imagine the force such giant trees exert towards the ground! We surmised that these lines are a result of the huge, constant, downward compression force on the roots.
My favorite of all the trees was "Screaming Titans," which is actually two trees fused together and so doesn't count (by some estimations) as the "largest tree." But _I_ think it counts, so I declare it the largest tree in the world! Over 30 feet across. It's hard to even imagine something that big. It just TOWERS over the six of us (seven if you can spot the baby in the backpack!). We measured it out in the backyard when we got home from our trip. Our tape measure doesn't even go 30 feet; we had to add yardsticks! 
Our YARD doesn't even go thirty feet in the other dimension. It's hard to even wrap your mind around that kind of size.
I tried to put these pictures side-by-side in scale, for comparison. The tree on the left in every case is the Stout Redwood, the marked and non-secret tree in Stout Grove, which is enormous! 3 feet above the ground (that's the standard place to measure, I guess) it's 19 feet in diameter. And on the right are various Titans (unknown, Fused Titan, and Screaming Titans, from top to bottom). The black line over the Stout Redwood is the same size as the black line on each Titan on the right. You can see that any of the Titans extend several feet past the Stout Redwood, even just from this one angle.
Anyway, back to Screaming Titans. I love it!  We met another hiker at this tree, who confirmed where we were and reminded us of the names of some of the trees we were finding. It was fun to encounter another Titan-lover! Screaming Titans dwarfs Miss Junie--no great feat, you may say.
But it dwarfs Sam just as much!
Looking up to the treetops makes you feel so small!
The kids were all so great. Malachi thinks he's one of the big kids, so he wandered off once to explore and gave us a scare, but we soon found him and then he and the girls stayed put on this log while the rest of us climbed around in the more strenuous areas.
More gazing heaven-ward.
We spent a long time just sitting among this beautiful grove, among these ancient trees, talking quietly and trying to cement it all in our memories so we could remember the experience forever. I think I've said before that these forests feel like holy places, and the Grove of Titans was even more so, if that's possible. It was so still and peaceful and solemn and immense. Just amazing. We felt like we were the luckiest people in the world to be able to go here!

11 comments:

  1. How exciting! What an incredible trip. Your photos are amazing.

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  2. Once when I was probably Malachai's age, we went to the redwood forest. We lived in LA then and my parents liked to take trips and camp in trailers and have civilized adventures. I remember we actually drove straight through a giant redwood - a thing I think now was barbaric, cutting a tunnel through a living tree. I remember the feeling of those vacations - and I still have the tiny box made of redwood that my parents unbent and bought for me to have as a reminder. I am thinking of the rich and truly amazing array of visual and sensory and loving and family images and memories your kids will be carting around for all their lives - milk and honey so they will know the real life, the life of joy, from the junk the world will throw at them. I love your family so much.

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  3. I'm going there on August 22 2014 and hope to find the Grove of Titans as well. Your photos are spectacular and I wish I had such a nice camera. Your children are fortunate to have such wonderful parents that leave them with memories like this. God bless all of you.

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  4. The "fused titan" you wrote of is Chesty Puller.

    A bunch of new titans were found the past couple years in the redwood parks north of Eureka in Del Norte and Humboldt. But only photos are available. The parks are not being named alongside the spectacular new discoveries.

    Remarkable that the forest holds many remaining secrets.

    The blog at the site below has a fairly recent post for a couple of the trees.

    Cheers,

    M. D. Vaden

    www.mdvaden.com/redwoods.shtml

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  5. hierge: Thank you! I hope you have a wonderful time exploring! :)

    M.D. Vaden: Your photos are spectacular. Thanks for pointing me toward your site!

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  6. Isn't it remarkable, that just as folks think they've seen the biggest, there may actually be even larger ...

    Just updated my coast redwood page main page and Grove of Titans page, showing a man by a 30 foot wall of wood. And it's not the largest we found in 2014. Just enough to document some stuff this year.

    www.mdvaden.com/grove_of_titans.shtml

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  7. Hello Marilyn!

    Thank you for posting! What a wonderful story!!
    Would it be okay to contact you via e-mail?

    Thank you in advance!
    Becky

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  8. Becky: Sure, I'd love to hear from you! Email info in my profile.
    Thanks!

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  9. Marilyn: I tried to access your contact info via your profile and it kept popping up with an error message. (?) If you wouldn't mind providing it here or possibly sending me a message? someday14@hotmail.com
    Looking forward to speaking with you!

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  10. Hello Marilyn,

    Spent the day hiking the trail off Stout Grove, checking hopefully on side trails, but must have wandered not quite far enough. As a Nebraskan far from home on a last road trip before life as a teacher resumes, I'm thinking I'll make one last quest tomorrow morning. I would so adore any time you could give for a tip or two. Just a last chance to marvel at the incredible wonder of the world.
    Eternal gratitude!
    -Cara
    cmorgenson@gmail.com

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  11. Hello Marilyn! I was wondering if it woukd be okay to email you for some helpful tips finding the grove?

    Thanks!

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