It seems as though no sooner than Memorial Day becomes a fading memory, the 4th of July rolls around to provide an opportunity for the celebration of our independence. No complaints here of another holiday- only a bit of dismay at the rapid passage of time.
Several thoughts come to mind in consideration of July 4th, 2016. First of all, just about the time one is ready to give up on America (there seems to be no shortage of support for such a belief these days), something unexpected rekindles hope. This writer is probably the last person in the world to claim being an authority on pop culture, but a recent aspect of that has come to my attention. Those more in tune with the “now” surely know about the recent Tony Awards, and more specifically, about the play “Hamilton” that walked away with 11 of them at this year’s presentation. The play is the brain-child of Lin Manual Miranda, an American of Puerto-Rican dissent, himself inspired by a biography of founding father Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow. Miranda’s play is a raunchy, rap-music rendition of the extraordinary life of one of the Founding Fathers of America. The cast runs the gamut of the diversity of the American people, men and women of many ethnicities. At a time when history has all but been forgotten in society and in the schools, Hamilton is a breath of fresh air, a circuitous path toward a revival in learning about the birth of a great nation. One of the cast members, in an interview on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, said he felt a stronger feeling of patriotism as an American because of his role in the play than he ever had before. Hamilton is working magic!
But Miranda’s brand of new patriotism is by no means the first experienced in America. At the close of World War II, a new form of radical, revolutionary music shook the country and re-casted the identity of the American people- FOLK. One of the instigators of the movement was Woody Guthrie, who in 1945 published the patriotic folk song “This Land is Your Land”. “From the Redwood forests, to the Gulf Stream Waters…” is the line of the song that naturally conjures up images of grandeur for arborists.
Redwood trees are not only an American icon, they are a symbol of sustainability. The narrow band of Pacific coastline that forms the native habitat of Sequoia sempervirens stretches over 400 miles from Big Sur in California to just north of the Oregon Border, but rarely more than 30 miles inland. Ample rainfall and coastal fog produce the tallest trees on Earth: Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the largest remaining tract of old growth redwoods, holds 130 of the 180 known trees over 350 feet tall! The oldest documented Coast Redwood is over 2200 years old, and the redwood has several unique adaptations that foster such longevity:
• Sprouts can form wherever the cambium (the living cells just under the bark) are exposed to light. If the top of the tree is blown out by a storm or lightning strike, new shoots will begin to grow at that point.
• Compounds in the bark and heartwood allow the trees to resist attacks by insects and disease.
• A lack of resin in the bark prevents more mature trees from fire damage.
• Tree seedlings or sprouts from stumps may grow little or remain completely dormant for years, patiently waiting for an adjacent tree to fall or become damaged, opening a window of light to the forest floor. Once this happens, dormancy is broken and the young plant bursts forth with new growth.
The California Gold Rush of 1849 was the beginning of the end of vast tracts of Redwood forest, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 accelerated the process to unsustainable levels. Since the 1970’s, protection of Spotted Owls and Salmon streams have boosted the protection of old growth forests, and protection of second-growth forests have entered the conflict between timber companies and ecology groups. New timber management practices are protecting the environment, and yet endangered species such as the Spotted Owl are colonizing second growth forests, so the battle continues. Harvests of 70 year old Redwoods yield trees that are 150-200 feet tall.
But if you think that California is the only place you can find a Coast Redwood, you are wrong: one grows right here in Georgia! For years I would drive past a most unusual conifer on a busy road in Tucker, wondering what the tree was but never taking the time to confirm its identity. One day while driving past and noticing the homeowner working in his yard, I stopped to speak with him. Turns out the tree is a Coast Redwood that the man brought back from a vacation to California in 1995 and planted in his front yard. The stately tree has 3 trunks, red shaggy bark, and has attained a height of over 30 feet in its 20 year stint here in the south. Will the tree reach the towering heights of her cousins out west? Not likely: Coast Redwoods get at least 30% of their moisture from the fog that rolls in off of the Pacific Ocean. That fog would have to roll a long way to reach this tree!
We’ve travelled a long way through both time and distance in these few paragraphs, and touched on a variety of icons that represent our celebration of Independence Day, July 4th. Some people may lean toward traditional American history with images of Washington, Jefferson, or Franklin. Others may participate in the patriotic renaissance steeped in the rap of Miranda’s “Hamilton”. Still others may see the symbols of America in the natural beauty of the Redwood Forest- or even a Redwood tree in Tucker. Where ever the spirit of Independence Day finds you this year, remember the words of Woody Guthrie:
“From the Redwood Forests, the Gulf Stream Waters- this land was made for you and me.”