For a tree too big to wrap your arms around, the California coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, is surprisingly elusive. Their bases might be elephantine, but the upper reaches, they’re lofty, inscrutable. It’s this zone that I’m preparing to enter, a fog-shrouded crown on the northern California coast. A guide cinches me into a harness, and before I know it, I’m 140 feet up, then 150, 160. I stare at the tree’s dark, gnarled bark to quell the vertigo rising in my temples.
By the time I’m about 20 stories off the ground, the dot-sized people staring up at me are gone, replaced by intertwined branches and needles that close around me like a net. Clumps of sage-colored moss dangle and an inexplicable calm descends. Somewhere, my mind is scrambling like a squirrel, aware that I’m dangling 200 feet off the ground, but the tree’s unrelenting solidity—it’s been here since before the Magna Carta, after all—is having an effect. There’s a stillness up here that passes understanding.
I should have seen this coming. It’s just the way David Milarch described it. Milarch’s singular goal in life is to bring these primeval forests back from the brink, and he knows just how to win people to his cause. The best baptism is the experience. I see it in the faces of others after they return from a crown visit: blooming cheeks, starry eyes, deep sighs. They’ve gotten big tree religion.
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