The Wild Trees by Richard Preston (with illustrations by Andrew Joslin) was originally published in 2007. My hardcover copy has 294 pages. This is nonfiction. I adored The Wild Trees and knew I would before I even read it. I have been keeping a look out for a used copy since it was originally published but I should have just purchased it new. This makes me want to go back and look at more sequoias... and I already felt an overwhelming desire to see them again before reading Preston's book. You might need to love big trees to really cherish this book, but since I already love big trees, it was a natural for me. I very highly recommend The Wild Trees and rate it a 5.
Synopsis from book:
Hidden away in foggy, uncharted rain forest valleys in Northern California are the largest and tallest organisms the world has ever sustained–the coast redwood trees, Sequoia sempervirens. Ninety-six percent of the ancient redwood forests have been destroyed by logging, but the untouched fragments that remain are among the great wonders of nature. The biggest redwoods have trunks up to thirty feet wide and can rise more than thirty-five stories above the ground, forming cathedral-like structures in the air. Until recently, redwoods were thought to be virtually impossible to ascend, and the canopy at the tops of these majestic trees was undiscovered. In The Wild Trees, Richard Preston unfolds the spellbinding story of Steve Sillett, Marie Antoine, and the tiny group of daring botanists and amateur naturalists that found a lost world above California, a world that is dangerous, hauntingly beautiful, and unexplored.
The canopy voyagers are young–just college students when they start their quest–and they share a passion for these trees, persevering in spite of sometimes crushing personal obstacles and failings. They take big risks, they ignore common wisdom (such as the notion that there’s nothing left to discover in North America), and they even make love in hammocks stretched between branches three hundred feet in the air.
The deep redwood canopy is a vertical Eden filled with mosses, lichens, spotted salamanders, hanging gardens of ferns, and thickets of huckleberry bushes, all growing out of massive trunk systems that have fused and formed flying buttresses, sometimes carved into blackened chambers, hollowed out by fire, called “fire caves.” Thick layers of soil sitting on limbs harbor animal and plant life that is unknown to science. Humans move through the deep canopy suspended on ropes, far out of sight of the ground, knowing that the price of a small mistake can be a plunge to one’s death.
Preston’s account of this amazing world, by turns terrifying, moving, and fascinating, is an adventure story told in novelistic detail by a master of nonfiction narrative. The author shares his protagonists’ passion for tall trees, and he mastered the techniques of tall-tree climbing to tell the story in The Wild Trees–the story of the fate of the world’s most splendid forests and of the imperiled biosphere itself.
"The Coast Redwood Tree is an evergreen conifer and a member of the cypress family. Its scientific name is Sequoia sempervirens. It is sometimes called the California redwood, but most often it is simply referred to as the redwood. No one knows exactly when or where the redwood entered the history of life on earth, though it is an ancient kind of tree, and has come down to our world as an inheritance out of deep time." pg. 5
"The redwoods you can see in Muir woods are nothing like the redwood titans that stand in the rain-forest valleys of the North Coast, closer to Oregon. These are the dreadnoughts of trees, the blue whales of the plant kingdom." pg. 6
"In its first twenty years of life, a Coast Redwood can grow from a seed into a tree that's fifty feet tall. In its next thousand years, it grows faster, adding mass at an accelerated rate. A redwood can go from a seed into a big tree in about six hundred years. Around age eight hundred, which is the end of its youth, it may reach its maximum height - its thirty-something-story height." pg. 20
"In any case, biologists regarded coast redwood trees as unreachable towers, remote and bare. Steve Sillett encountered something quite different. He found what amounted to coral reefs in the air." pg. 25
"The National Geographic Society had once made a big deal of the way it had allegedly explored the redwood forests, but in fact the Society had totally dropped the ball. Executives in Washington, D.C., seemed unaware of the fact that one of the most important ecosystems in North America remained unexplored at the most basic level, the level of a map." pg. 87
"You can get reasonably good at tree climbing in six months if you climb regularly...Each move has to be done on a nearly instinctual basis. It's called muscle memory - the hands and body instinctively know what to do before the mind does. You have to keep a hundred percent focus on what you're doing when you're in a tree. If you lose focus just once, and make one small mistake..." pg. 138
"Sillett's first task in trying to understand the redwood canopy would be to describe the things that live there. Putting together a basic picture of an ecosystem or habitat and what lives in it is called a descriptive natural history." pg. 147
"The exact location of the grove is known only to a handful of biologists, who climb the trees and study the ecology of the grove. They guard the knowledge of its location with the jealousy of a prospector who has found the mother lode." pg. 175
"A giant redwood that is adding one or two millimeters of thickness to its wood layer in a year is adding huge amounts of material to itself, and is one of the fastest-growing organisms in nature. That a redwood seems to be growing slowly is merely an illusion of human time." pg. 212
"The coast redwood is a so-called relict species. It is a tiny remnant population of a life form that once spread in splendor and power across the face of nature. The redwood has settled down in California to live near the sea, the way many retired people do." pg. 218
"Not only are the redwoods sensitive to damage from climbing but the whole habitat of the redwood canopy is fragile...If people start climbing around in it for recreational reasons, it will inevitably be damaged." pg. 228
"[T]hey estimated that Hyperion was close to 380 feet tall..." pg 282 It "turned out to be 379.1 feet tall." pg 284