Who isn’t captivated by redwoods? The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston, will draw you in with its story about a few absolutely compelling characters who simultaneously set out to discover the world’s tallest trees in the redwood forests of Oregon and California. They are rewarded for their perseverance, passion and nerve, and so is the reader.
Unbeknownst to me, most redwood forests were virtually unexplored before the 1980s, except by loggers who were only interested in taking redwood forests down. The Redwood National Park was established in 1968 and it was declared to contain “the Mt. Everest of all Living Things”, the Tall Tree. However, there were no additional explorations or challenges to the claim of tallest tree until Steve Sillett, Marie Antoine, and Michael Taylor come along.
It all starts with a road trip. Steve Sillett and friends from Reed College drive down to Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in 1987. Off the beaten path, Sillett proceeds to climb to the top of a redwood with his bare hands. Along the way, he finds all sorts of parasitic growth he cannot recognize, but pockets for further study. At the top, Sillett is amazed to find a huckleberry bush growing out of soil in the redwood canopy and feasts on huckleberries. The climb is a risky and dangerous endeavor, but results in a rich reward.
Sillett has discovered a new world. Ascension into redwoods was previously not done. With that one act, Sillett has come upon a “Vertical Eden” not previously known. When climbed, he finds that redwoods reveal an entire ecosystem at the top, including all sorts of previously undiscovered animals and plants. He perfects his climbing technique and he and his wife Marie, a lichen expert and tree climber, go on to further climb and explore the canopies of tall trees. Along the way, they measure and name some of the biggest and tallest trees in the world, including Screaming Titans, Lost Monarch, Kronos, Hyperion and many, many others.
The author does a great job depicting the attention, skill and technique required for climbing redwoods. The risk of falling is great and danger looms large, which builds up the suspense of the story. Also, the element of discovery – whether it is finding the biggest and tallest tree, or a new lichen or ant type, it all adds to the quality of the story being told.
The book even has a shout-out to Atlanta. No redwoods there, but gorgeous trees and Peter Jenkins. Jenkins is the arborist who founded Tree Climbers International in Candler Park. Jenkins teaches the author how to climb, so he can join Steve and Marie in the redwoods.
Added to my list of things to do? Visit redwoods and learn to climb tall trees. After you read this book, you’ll want to climb, too. A great book. Highly recommended.