Episode 051 – Gods Among Us
“We’re all connected, linked up. It’s a subtle reminder that as long as we keep searching, discovery is possible.”
How do I even begin to describe this episode?
Well, in 1963, Paul Zahl, head guy at National Geographic coined a phrase when referencing the Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias in California. He called them the Mount Everest of living things.
Fossils and seeds from these majestic beauties have been discovered in a place that can’t be explained. Some date back 45 million years.
What started as a simple assignment from my acting coach turned into an expansive journey that left me trying to connect the human condition through the reintegration of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, but ending with a story about a tree that fell in the woods over one hundred years ago.
Tune in to listen to one of the most difficult episodes I’ve ever recorded and quite possibly one of my favorites.
Alright… how’s everyone doing this week?
First I want to thank everyone who sent us voice memos congratulating us on 50 episodes. Wow. I was completely surprised and you made my entire week. If you didn’t know you could leave voice memos, I’ll tell ya, until recently, it wasn’t a feature.
But…my wife Melody was working behind the scenes the week before to surprise me for that episode. She created a secret page where you guys could leave a message about the show and you did.
You chimed in with your well-wishes and left me sweet words of encouragement and told me how you relate to the show, your favorite episodes…
It was fabulous.
So fabulous in fact, we made the secret page public. Now… if you head over to themindunset.com, you can leave us a message any time, day or night and I’ll get back to you. I answer every email and enjoy hearing from you.
Linkage: A connection or relation between things or ideas. Specifically the kind of connection where one thing follows the other, as if in a chain.
The main word here is connection.
This week, I was working on some new demos for my website. I’ve mentioned in previous episodes that I’ve been studying with a voice acting coach for the last several months.
It’s been challenging and as we tweak my website to get it to the place it needs to be, I’ve been updating my demos. Taking down earlier demos and replacing them with newer, stronger ones.
My coach, Lili recommended that I add a couple more styles of reads and one of them was a television narration performance.
So, I decided to write a script. That’s what I do. The topic was a well-known YouTube Video I’d see a dozen times. I wrote it as if it was going to be made into a documentary.
The piece is called How Wolves Change Rivers which comes from a real TedTalk by the same name, given by a guy named George Monbiot (Mon-bee-uht).
If you haven’t seen the video, it’s 4 and a half minutes long and it’s fascinating. I highly recommend it.
In doing my research for the script I was reading a lot of op-eds on the contentious debate about the reintegration of wolves into Yellowstone, conservation, and general discussions about the current state of the environment. And then I stumbled upon another story about two amateur naturalists.
This is where the chain begins.
In 1905, the Humboldt Times Standard published an article about a tree. The Crannell Creek Giant, also known as the Lindsey Creek Tree. There are no known photographs of the tree and I haven’t been able to find the authority on who actually discovered the tree.
The reason the Humboldt Times Standard published the article was because the tree fell over in a storm. Usually, not a big deal.
Except this tree, the Lindsey Creek Tree was the largest ever recorded. In history. At the time, it’s mass and dimensions were estimated to be as follows:
- Height: 390 feet
- Weight: 3,630 tons or 7.26 million pounds
- Trunk volume: 2,550 cubic meters or 90,000 cubic feet.
Skip Johnson, a logger from Fairfield California, where the tree grew said in a 1971 interview that he saw the tree after it had fallen. That would mean old skip was in his 70s at the time of the interview. He claimed a family member took the measurements that have been recorded and quoted today.
That family member recorded the diameter of 19 feet, 130 feet from the ground. A diameter of almost 10 at 260 feet off the ground and a total height…“Slightly exceeding 390 feet.”
That makes the Lindsey Creek tree – which was a Coast Redwood – a full 17% bigger than The General Sherman, located in Tulare, California. The General is a Giant Sequoia which is currently being touted as the biggest tree in the world, but different from the Coast Redwood.
Coast Redwoods and Giant Sequoias are in the same family but grow in different places. Sequoias grow on the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevada at elevation between 4 and 8000 feet.
Coast redwoods grow in a 470-mile ribbon from southern Oregon to Big Sur.
The giant sequoia have massive trunks that make them the world’s biggest trees by volume. Coast Redwoods are taller but with a more slender trunk.
They have different foliage and a few other things that set them apart but I’m getting off track.
I first saw the Giant Sequoias back in 2000 when I was touring the west coast. I have been fascinated by them ever since.
When I was doing the script on wolves, I kept reverting back to the articles about these trees. Trying to draw the connection so that my piece on linkage would have relevance.
Sadly the connection comes in the form of extinction. Or, near extinction, prevented only by a few brave souls who decided to take on the industrialists of the early 1900’s.
You see, after this article was published, logging companies laid claim to these trees and began cutting them down so quickly that what remains today is a scant 4% of what was there 200 years ago.
Thankfully, in 1918, Madison Grant, Henry Osborn, and John Merriam rallied a bunch of rich guys together and created the Save the Redwoods League. Still in existence today, this organization has managed to save 200,000 acres of redwood forest and created 66 parks and preserves.
The wolves did not have a savior come to their defense; the last pack disappeared from Yellowstone in 1926.
Cut to 1963 – Paul Zahl, Head of National Geographic called the Redwoods the “Mount Everests of living things.”
Check this out.
March 2002: Johns Hopkins University published a piece about an island near the North Pole called, Axel Heilberg. This island is so far north, it makes Iceland look like a nice place to get away for the winter. Nothing there but rocks, ice, moss and fossils.
Redwood fossils. 45 million year old redwoods that researchers can’t explain how they existed on an island with 4 months worth of sun per year.
The trees alive today support entire ecosystems in their canopies; Ferns, salamanders, and other trees like Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Hemlock flourish 300 feet in the air.
Here’s where it gets really cool. Remember the two amateur naturalists I mentioned at the beginning of this piece? Their names are Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor.
In the summer of 2007 over a span of eight weeks, these two guys discovered what are believed to be the three tallest trees in the world. All of them, taller than 370 feet and over 2,000 years old. They named the trees after Greek Gods, Hyperion, Icarus, and Helios.
These trees narrowly escaped being cut down thanks to sheer luck. Only one hundred meters from Hyperion lies a barren land created by the logging industry during the 1970s.
In fact by 1978, more than 90% of the ancient forest owned by the United States government was cut.
At the location where Hyperion was found there was actually a large number of trees even bigger and taller than Hyperion.
Thankfully, and despite heavy opposition from the logging industry, President Jimmy Carter signed into law 48,000 the addition of 48,000 acres of Redwood Forest.
In fact, Jimmy Carter signed 14 major pieces of environmental legislation, including the first funding of alternative energy, the first fuel economy standards, and the passage of the 100 million dollar Alaska Lands Bill which doubled the size of the National Park Service and saved for future generations what is now the largest group of trees on the planet.
Sadly, you can’t go see these trees if you wanted to. For several years after Hyperion’s discovery, only a cryptic description of how to find it was posted.
Like a passage from Lord of the Rings or something, the notes were to “pass through a keyhole in the forest.”
As late 2015, only 8 people had seen the tree and they too kept it secret. Until in 2015 someone posted an anonymous website with a detailed map and the exact coordinates for the trees. The public flocked to the location and of course, the trees suffered.
People climbed on the trunks for photos, left behind trash and human waste and forced the park to close off any future public access. Today, if you’re caught trespassing in the area, it’s a $15,000 fine and a 6 month jail term.
This is what we do.
Circling back to how this all started, the wolves. In 1995, a pack of 8 wolves were trucked from Alberta Canada to Wyoming and released into Yellowstone, making it the first time wolves roamed free since 1926.
If you watch the video, How Wolves Change Rivers, you’ll see how quickly they transformed the entire ecosystem for the better. You’ll see how they reset the balance of nature and actually affected the flow of the rivers.
But now, they’re under assault once again. And maybe it’s because the people opposed to the wolves don’t appreciate being reminded that wolves aren’t the problem.
What’s the take away? What’s the point? The lesson.
Maybe there isn’t one.
Maybe knowing that Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor discovered those trees makes me feel better about the future. It’s a wonderful reminder that as long as we keep searching, discovery is possible.
It’s only when we stop looking that we stop seeing.
Maybe this is just my homage to the Gods among us.
What’s the old adage: Blessed are those who plant trees knowing they will never sit in their shade.
Alright, that’s all I got for this week.
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