Redwoods: A Walk Among the Giants

Ancient Trees Inspire Ways Of Life in Humboldt County, Calif.

The Del Norte Titan coast redwood in California's Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park dwarfs two visitors at lower left. Robert Van Pelt hide caption

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itoggle caption Robert Van Pelt

Human reactions are rarely subtle in the presence of redwoods, unfathomably ancient and enormously tall trees. They have made men rich and women widows. They have moved generations of families to champion their cause. In the second of her series on Big Trees and the Lives They've Changed, NPR's Ketzel Levine travels to Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Avenue of the Giants, where she talks with residents and walks among the trees.

"Moving through a grove of immense trees is so surreal," Levine reports, "it's tough to get your bearings. Some of these creatures put down their first, thirsty roots 2,000 years ago. To describe their beauty is to miss their menace; to speak of their size is to deny their grace. Fallen logs the size of beached whales... charred stumps a team of horses high and wide... and in the air, the scent of earth, bark and compost, stirred with the wind."

The coastal redwoods, Sequoia sempervirens, are the world's tallest trees. The current champion is the Stratosphere Giant, measuring 368.6 feet tall. These are not the world's biggest trees, however, when considering a combination of height, circumference and canopy spread; those are giant sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum, which live at higher elevations. The coastal redwoods are native to a thin coastal strip in northern California and southern Oregon; most are preserved in state and federal parks. From an original population of an estimated two million acres, less than 4 percent of the trees remain.

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