Muir Woods, Going Home To Redwoods

12/23/2016 05:20 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2016

Last week in San Francisco, I took several hours and went back to my roots among the majestic redwoods in Muir Woods.

Muir Woods National Monument is a remnant stand of ancient coastal redwoods, the tallest tree species on the face of the earth, that, prior to 1880, carpeted many northern California coastal valleys.

This superlative forest was spared the axe because local businessman William Kent and his bride, Elizabeth Thatcher Kent, bought the land in 1905. It was one of the last uncut southern stands.

In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt used the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaiming the forest a national monument. At the request of Kent, the monument was named after the legendary naturalist John Muir, co-founder of the Sierra Club.

Over 30 years ago, I first cut my teeth in the science of trees. So returning back to my roots in the awesome redwood forest was just like going home.

The moist and pungent early morning air reminded me why trees in communities of forests are supreme life forms. The size and girth of redwoods is spellbinding. And the rich, earthy reds adorning the bark are unlike any other color that I’ve ever seen.

I’ve often worked alone in wild forests and always in the company of birds. That morning the unique sound of high-pitched trills brought a smile to my face because I knew my avian friends, Pacific wrens, were nearby.

As I neared the lifeblood of earth, the rushing water of Redwood Creek, I heard nature’s jackhammer hard at work: a flaming redheaded Pileated woodpecker drilling in the treetops for its breakfast: carpenter ants.

I was home. Grinning ear to ear like a fortunate child on Christmas morning, I greeted the tall ones by repeatedly thumping their foot-thick fibrous bark.

It was early and nobody else was in the forest except the creatures and the tall ones.

Along the edge of Redwood Creek just below a pool created by a downed ancient redwood, I spotted an ocean inhabitant – a female Coho salmon. I watched in awe as she performed a timeless ritual of digging a redd (nest) by turning partly on her side and using powerful, rapid movements of her tail to dislodge the gravels, transported a short distance downstream.

She repeated this, creating an oval depression approximately as long and deep as her length. Then she released her eggs and a nearby male added milt (sperm) to the redd.

I witnessed one of nature’s wonders – the fertilization of life!

Soon the mature Cohos would feed eagles, raccoons, coyotes, weasels, shrews and others. The decomposing Coho carcasses nearby Redwood Creek would decay and release nitrogen, a vital mineral for redwood roots and their symbiotic partners, mycorrhizal fungi.

This elegant circle of life in the redwood forest connects the land to the sea and reminded me that in nature there is no waste, there is no unemployment, everything eats and all life is interdependent.

It’s nature’s perfect blueprint for our survival on Earth.

Feeling nourished and humbled I left Muir Woods that morning to rally for climate science in the streets of San Francisco later that afternoon.

Kudos for the Kent family for saving that forest, President Roosevelt for protecting it and John Muir for his ceaseless activism saving redwoods and Sequoias over a century ago.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need all of the remaining ancient forests on our planet protected because they provide priceless oxygen, fresh water, carbon dioxide warehouses, climate stabilizers, crucial habitat for creatures and potent heart, pain, diabetes and cancer medicines.

This holiday season make time to visit a local wild forest and reconnect to your salubrious, energizing roots.

The glorious redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument.
Photo credit: Reese Halter
The glorious redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument.

Earth Doctor Reese Halter’s upcoming book is “Save Nature Now.”

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