Wells Tower Nails Redwoods

The Accidental Naturalist feeling "disheveled, crooked, and mortal."
    A few Sundays back, an article called "The High Life" appeared in the New York Times magazine. I was lured in by the lush photograph of a redwood grove and the article's subtitle "How Tall Trees, Tree Huggers and Pot Farms are Transforming a California Backwater."  That backwater--Humboldt County, California--is one of my favorite places to observe marbled murrelets. Because of the county's large concentration of old-growth redwood forests, it is also a favorite nesting place for the endangered murrelet.
   But this isn't a blog about murrelets, nor really about redwoods, old-growth forests, of the marijuana in Humboldt County. It is simply an appreciation for another writer, the article's author, Wells Tower.
   Though Towers has published many a prize-winning short stories in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Paris Review, I had not read his work until his book, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned was selected by my book club a few months ago. Tower deserves prizes for his verbs alone. "High Life," however, should earn him a prize for ending the epic struggle by writers to describe the experience of being in a old-growth forest.
   While researching my book, Rare Bird: Pursuing the Mystery of the Marbled Murrelet, I read countless descriptions of these trees, most collapsing under the weight of adjectives and superlatives, all falling short.  Wells succeeded in two paragraphs. And here they are:
  "Perennially fattened on a diet of Pacific Ocean fogs, many of the trees in the state park (and its counterpart in northern Humboldt, Redwood National Park) casually top 300 feet, and the oldest specimens have been growing for two millenniums. In my touristic career, I've grown numb to the presence of hammerhead sharks, giant tortoises, grizzly bears, blue-footed boobies and pilot whales, but in the awe department, coast redwoods seemed to have no point of diminishing returns. Each tree revealed some astounding new characteristic of girth, bark tone, branch anatomy or moss couture. The forest's crisp, misty air made breathing a thrilling novelty. It seemed to inhale itself. I tried not to think about a distressing spate of recent studies wondering how these trees will survive what looks to be a worsening, climate-change-related shortage of coastal fogs. Instead, I tried to marvel gratefully that there were still thousands of these trees standing,not just one on a museum lot enclosed by a velvet rope.
   The trouble with redwood forests, though, is that they are hard on the human ego. You can't spend much time among all of that primordial rectilinearity without starting to feel disheveled, crooked, and mortal. I'd had every intention of going for a hike, but you cannot maintain a pace staggering around with your neck craned, guffawing like Jed Clampett seeing his first skyscraper. Back at the car, the dashboard clock said it had taken me two hours to walk a mile."

  Click here to read the full article in the New York Times.