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    Sunday
    Aug062017

    Humboldt County

    Mere communion with nature, mere contact with the free air, exercise a soothing yet comforting and strengthening influence on the wearied mind, calm the storm of passion, and soften the heart when shaken by sorrow to its inmost depths. 

                                                                                                                                                                    -Alexander von Humboldt   

    Up in Northern California’s Humboldt county (named after the once-famed and highly-esteemed Prussian adventurer-scientist Alexander von Humboldt; read The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf, and Humboldt’s own Views of Nature), live Earth’s tallest trees (100+ meter Sequoia sempervirens, aka coastal redwoods, which can grow taller than the London Big Ben clock tower which gets blown up at the end of V for Vendetta), which are also some of the oldest living organisms (lifespan: 1,200 – 1,800 years or more) on the planet (unless you subscribe to James Lovelock’s reasonable Gaia hypothesis, which posits that Earth is an sovereign organism unto itself, thus is in and within itself the single oldest living entity, weighing-in at 4.5 billion years-old and god knows how many pounds.)  The upturned trunks of fallen redwoods the size of school buses, with their shallow root systems exposed and with ferns and small trees growing from the decomposing bark (within which live whole colonies of ants and other insects), look like great centerpieces in the forest.


    The soaring old growth redwoods are but one expression of the gigantic flora flourishing in the northland wilderness that are Humboldt and Del Norte counties.  Along the coast there are ferns taller than pickup trucks and starfish larger than saucers and frying pans.  My friend and I, both self-professed expert campers who just happened to forget our flashlights and headlamps, arrived to our Patrick Point’s campsite at night, and after struggling to set-up our tents in the dark, went to sleep.   (I’ve always enjoyed the experience of arriving in new destination very late at night, going to sleep, and then waking up early to explore a place that you have never been to.)  Awaking in my tent at Patrick’s Point, the squawking birds and green hues were reminiscent of a tropical jungle, and when I stepped out of my tent the encompassing evergreens and boulders seemed disproportionally larger than usual.  It felt as though I was a miniature person standing in a giant terrarium and playground.  Layers and layers of vegetation covered the boulders like hanging gardens, and the bright green tips of new growth festooned the branch tips of native trees.

    One of the most remarkable aspects of Patrick’s Point is the burgeoning tidepool life, particularly that of the massive starfish population.  Along the shores of Sonoma and Mendocino country it’s rare, if not impossible, to find a single starfish living amongst the rocky shores (wasting syndrome is probably a significant factor), yet the Humboldt coast was rich with sea stars.  It has been many years since I’ve seen such healthy tidepool populations anywhere, and I can only assume that in recent decades the sea star population has dwindled along the California coastline and that had we visited Patrick’s Point (or any point along American continents where the western shores kiss the Pacific Ocean) a century ago our minds would have been blown by the then-incredible extent and variety of intertidal marine life (having said that, I have never visited Patagonia, and would relish the opportunity to explore the tidepools there).  Through time and space the mind wanders, and standing amongst the tallest trees on Earth one wonders:  have there ever been taller trees throughout Earth’s history, or are these the tallest (after all, the blue whale is larger than most extinct dinosaurs, so we may as well assume that these trees are the amongst the largest to ever grace the surface of the Earth)?  Such a comparison of conditions of ecological health can also be made in the river systems of Humboldt County versus that of other popular rivers in Northern California.  The Smith River, which runs through Jedidiah Smith State Park and out to the sea, is perhaps one of the clearest and cleanest rivers I have ever swam in or seen.  Whereas the Russian River in west Sonoma, which seems clean enough, appears dirty enough by comparison that my little niece once questioned me as to veracity of its name, saying, “I thought it was called Restroom River.”

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