The Loma Prietan - July/August 2009

Book Review

The Wild Trees, a Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston

by Bill Buchholz

The New York Times describes The Wild Trees, by Richard Preston, as "An exciting book [that] combines the thrill of exploration with the quirkiness of those who choose it as their lives' work." Part of this book is the story and adventures of Steve Silette, Marie Antoine, Michael Taylor, and a few other young (and sometimes reckless) botanists and amateur naturalists as they search for the tallest trees in the world: redwoods in the unexplored forests along California's north coast and eucalyptus in Australia. Their search is complicated by the fact that botanists have a tradition of never revealing the exact location of a rare plant. Contact between humans and rare plants is generally risky for the plant.

This book can be enjoyed as the true-life adventures of college students filled with enthusiasm and passion, who are on a quest. Though the author tends to over-dramatize their story, sometimes portraying them as irresponsible adolescents engaging in risky, if not life-threatening behavior, there is a deeper story being told here — the story of ancient giants that have inhabited planet earth since long before the age of dinosaurs.

And for many, therein lies the charm of the book. Interspersed with the researchers' adventures are scores of fascinating facts that will enlighten the most ardent environmentalist:

• The coast redwoods grow only in a narrow band from Big Sur to the Chetco River Valley about 14 miles up the Oregon coast. Ninetysix percent of these majestic trees have been destroyed by logging, making the documentation and preservation of the remaining four percent all the more important.

• Each newly-discovered giant is measured and given a name. The current record-holder for the world's tallest tree is named Hyperion and was 379.1 feet tall in 2006

• In order to accurately measure the height of a giant redwood, it must be climbed to its very top and a line dropped to the ground — a process that involves a certain risk and excitement for even the most experienced climber.

• The oldest living redwoods are estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old — no one knows for sure since the cores of the oldest trees are hollow.

We can only appreciate the life story of these majestic trees on a deep level of consciousness that fills the soul with awe and reverence. This book is recommended for anyone who has ever hiked among redwoods and experienced their silent ageless presence.

Bill Buchholz is an architect and construction specifier in private practice. He has been a member of the Sierra Club for approximately 30 years.