Part 1. Forest Discovery
For an artist, a redwood forest is a feast of greenery. Velvet–green moss covers every open surface; shaggy grey–green lichens hang from overarching branches; an expanse of summer–green fern spreads unbroken throughout the understory. I marvel at the many hues and countless textures. I step deeper into the forest. The canopy closes above me. Moisture laden air, fragrant with the verdant scent of earth, draws me further into a pervading stillness. Fallen logs are gardens overgrown with ferns, baby redwood trees, moss, wildflowers and miniature plants. My eyes adjust to the dim light, and slowly I make out the sentinels—light grey trunks, straight and true, reaching up to lift branches to sunlight, branches thick with needles and cones. About halfway up one tree, a burl, bursting with ferns, sits like a hanging garden. That’s when I notice the massive trunk and thick ancient bark of an old–growth redwood, a commanding presence that towers over all. Suddenly I feel small, humbled to be in such a place. In the half–light I sense this gigantic, solid life form is a monument to time. Wise in the ways of forest life, the tree stands as guardian, watching, and waiting.
No wonder people call this a cathedral. Deeply impressed by what I have seen, I make my way back to our travel rig. We only stopped to have a picnic lunch with our grandchildren, our first time to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (California), but this is a world apart. We must stay longer and have another look.
We drive to the campground, past the prairie meadow where several Roosevelt Elk are grazing. Among the alders by the creek we find an open campsite, a small miracle during the summer season. As soon as camp is set up, we call the grandchildren, don our day packs and go exploring. The trail is wide and well kept, but it’s hard to keep a steady pace. Plants crowd the edge and offer all manner of branches, berries, vines, cones, leaves, flowers, mossy logs, lichen–covered twigs, and shelf fungi. We stop to examine each and every new plant or interesting form. Foliage is lush; magnificent redwoods rise up around every corner. The forest feels primeval, like we have walked back in time. Surely this is what it was like before 1850 when the ancient redwood forest inhabited 2,100,100 acres. It’s sobering to think that 95% of those trees are gone, cut down, turned into lumber and used in construction. With only 4–5% remaining, the redwoods need our protection and nurturing before their numbers fall below a critical mass. That could be devastating.
I usually take a day or two in a new area to absorb the lines, contours, shapes and forms before I get the urge to draw. However, in this forest I begin sketching at every stop: a fern leaf, a cone, the perfect leaves of wood sorrel, a pristine trillium, a mossy log. It’s endless. I could draw here forever…