Ace and I did some of that. We sat silently among the giant trees, craning our necks back, as if looking up to the heavens.
And — except for Ace relieving himself on the biggest one he could find – we behaved with all the appropriate decorum, being the types (though I can’t speak for Ace) who believe nature may really be the holiest thing of all, and that man, to satisfy his silly needs, has messed with it far to much.
For a good 30 minutes we sat wordlessly in a redwood grove, admiring their pristine beauty and giving thanks that, in a country that’s grown more environmentally conscious, steps have been taken to ensure these glorious giants won’t be exploited, and will be around when we who are just quickly passing through no longer are.
Call it curiosity, or sacrilege, or reporting — which I’m prone to do even though I’m not a reporter anymore, at least not the newspaper variety – but when we saw a sign in Leggett on Highway 101 inviting us to “Drive Through a Redwood Tree,” we exited.
Leggett is the home of Chandelier Tree, one of four redwoods in northern California that tourists regularly drive through because, well, they can. They’ve been there since the days when exploiting redwoods was something you could get away with.
The commercialization of the redwoods was well under way — and already controversial –when John Steinbeck and Charley passed through 50 years ago.
Around Klamath, for instance, you can find a drive-through redwood, take a cable car ride through the redwoods, and see a nearly 50-foot-tall talking Paul Bunyan, with Babe at his side. We passed on that one.
In Leggett, though, we followed the signs, paid our $5 entry fee and went down a winding dirt road before crunching to a halt in front of Chandelier Tree.
I wasn’t sure my Jeep would fit through, especially with the cargo bag on the roof.
A tourist egged me on, telling me he was pretty sure I’d make it. I inched forward, having visions of my car getting lodged and becoming a permanent part of a roadside attraction that — though it had sucked me in — was against my (slightly flexible) principles.
As I slowly rolled through, both side mirrors began scraping the inside of the tree. Thankfully they were collapsible; thankfully too there was nothing breakable in my rooftop carrier, which was scraping the top of the opening as well.
But we made it, and I felt at once a sense of accomplishment and shame, for although I justified my trip through a tree by telling myself it was for journalistic purposes, the bottom line was I was just another sappy tourist, as gullible to gimmicks as all the rest.
Beyond that, it all seemed so lazily American — so par for the course in a country of people who, when we are able to tear ourselves away from our computers and go outside, commonly drive up to the windows of banks and drug stores, McDonalds and Starbucks to satisfy our thirsts, hungers and needs, all without exiting the vehicle.
What could be more American than a drive-through tree?
Nothing. Except maybe a drive-though tree where you could also get a Big Mac and withdraw some cash.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 22nd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, california, chandelier tree, commercialization, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, drive thru, drive-through, environment, exploitation, leggett, pets, redwood, redwoods, road trip, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, trees
John Steinbeck’s French-born poodle, Charley, had little reaction to the giant redwood trees of southern Oregon and northern California – much to the chagrin of the author whose path we have been following for the past three months.
Based on what he wrote in “Travels with Charley,” seeing his dog make “his devoirs” — “devoirs” being French for “paying respect,” and paying respect being Steinbeck’s euphemism for peeing — was clearly important to him.
Charley urinating on a giant redwood, Steinbeck said, might “set him apart from other dogs — might even be like that Galahad who saw the Grail. The concept is staggering. After this experience he might be translated mystically to another plane of existence, to another dimension, just as the redwoods seem to be out of time and out of our ordinary thinking.”
He made a point of keeping Charley shielded from the trees, in the back of his camper Rocinante, until pulling over at the biggest redwood he could find.
“This was the time I had waited for. I opened the back door and let Charley out and stood silently watching, for this could be dog’s dream of heaven in the highest.” But Charley ignored the tree, Steinbeck wrote. “Look, Charley. It’s the tree of all trees. It’s the end of the quest.”
Then, he wrote, “I dragged him to the trunk and rubbed his nose against it. He looked coldly at me and forgave me and sauntered away to a hazelnut bush.” Not until Steinbeck broke off a willow branch, whittled one end to a point and inserted into the bark of the giant redwood did Charley do what seemed so important to Steinbeck. Devoirs accomplished.
It’s not exactly one of the warmest dog-human moments in the book — and Charley’s aloofness was pretty much the opposite of Ace’s reaction to the magnificent giants.
Ace rose up as we entered our first redwood forest and pressed his nose against the closed window. As always, I motored his window halfway down so he could sniff as well as see as we rode down a winding stretch of two-lane highway, rolling from dark shadows into blinding sunlight.
When we finally pulled over alongside a grove of redwoods, Ace was eager to get out, and tugged me into the forest.
He sniffed it, peed on it, and jumped up on it to sniff some more.
I won’t even try to describe the awe the redwoods inspire. Photos can’t do them justice. Word can’t do them justice, though Steinbeck came as close as anyone to getting across the “remote and cloistered feeling” one has when among them.
“One holds back speech for fear of disturbing something … for these are the last remaining members of a race that flourished over four continents as far back in geologic time as the upper Jurassic period.”
As the author noted, they have a way of making us realize how insignificant we are: “Can it be that we do not love to be reminded that we are very young and callow in a world that was old when we came into it?”
Posted by jwoestendiek November 21st, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, book, california, charley, dogs, forest, giants, grove, john steinbeck, oregon, peeing on redwoods, pets, redwood, redwoods, road trip, steinbeck, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, tree, trees
Posted by jwoestendiek November 7th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, conifer, diversi-tree, diversity, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, driving, evergreens, golden, haiku, highway, highway haiku, pets, poetry, road, road trip, tamarack, travel, travels with ace, tree, trees
When I finally pulled out of Fargo, I was certain any visions of fall colors were over. No way, I figured, could any leaves still be clinging to their trees. Those winds, like a heartless gang of thieves, surely stripped them bare.
But, as Ace and I traveled west across the state, there were a few bright exceptions: groves of yellow-leafed trees — birch or aspen — that, by virtue of being tightly grouped together, still sported their fall colors.
The only way I can figure it, they were saved by the copse.
By being huddled together in a group, they – at least those not on the periphery — were able to keep their leaves a little longer. They, like early American settlers, bees in a hive and the huddled masses everywhere found safety in numbers.
You don’t hear the word “copse” that much anymore. In “Travels with Charley,” it shows up a few times. When John Steinbeck camped, it was usually in a copse, alongside a river, which is where you’ll generally find the copse — despite what you might have heard about donut shops.
Driving along, I wondered if the copse might hold some lessons for us humans, or at least remind us of some.
When pioneers set forth across America, they did so in groups, depending on each other, and each other’s skills, for their survival. When Indians attacked, pioneers circled the wagons, recognizing that forming, in effect, a copse, was the best defense. They established towns for the same reason — so neighbors would be close, so that help would never be too far away.
And long before that, cavemen and cavewomen learned — apparently from sources other than reality TV — that, by forming alliances, they could better protect themselves from the elements, evil-doers and scary creatures.
For long time Americans lived a copse-like existence. We established a home. We dropped our seed. We watched it grow. Once it did, it stayed around, mingled with other hometown trees and dropped its own seed. Children lived where parents lived. The apple didn’t fall, or roll, far from the tree; it stayed in its parent’s shadow, at least until it ended up in a pie.
Somewhere along the line, that went by the wayside. Children grew up and ventured off, carving their own paths. Mom and dad, once on the periphery of the copse, shielding us from the nasty winds, were relocated to places they can get some assistance with living.
The copse-like closeness has diminished not just in the family, but in the family of man. We’re less inclined, I think, to help each other out. Rather than thinking we’re all in this together, rather than the stronger helping the weaker, the richer helping the poorer, the franchised helping the disenfranchised, we look out for No. 1.
And the more insular we’ve become, the more we fail to stake up those in need of support, the more we turn away from those stuck out in the cold, the more robbers we produce.
In the 21st Century, when it comes to protection, we rely on the cops.
But maybe the real answer is the copse.
Posted by jwoestendiek October 30th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aspen, assistance, autumn, birch, colors, compassion, cops, copse, crime, criminal, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, fall, foliage, groups, grove, help, insular, john steinbeck, leaves, north dakota, numbers, pioneers, robbers, safety, security, shelter, society, thicket, travels with ace, travels with charley, trees, winds
This Xena’s not a warrior princess, but she is a rescued Rottweiler. We met her over the unseasonably warm weekend at a dog park in Carrboro, N.C. She was in a full run when I took this photo. Hence the flapping tongue.
As dog parks go, Carrboro’s is a good-sized one — four fenced-in acres within the 55-acre Hank Anderson Park. Its biggest shortcoming is a complete lack of shade. Only one small tree is within its boundaries, and it looks dead.
So Xena, after a little running around, sought out the only spot that came close to being shaded, under the park bench.
And, being a gentle soul, she was more than happy to share it with Ace.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 5th, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, carrboro, dog park, dog parks, dogs, hank anderson park, n.c., north carolina, rescue, rescued, rottweiler, shade, trees, xena