Walking through a new forest of redwoods always gets me thinking about the old ones. If a Hollywood Indian chief were handy, he’d probably tell me it’s the spirit of their ancestors tweaking my conscience.

Redwood groveWe call the remaining ones old-growth redwoods. Hundreds of feet tall, saplings when the Romans ruled Europe. Our ancestors cut down almost every example that was ever alive in the past 200 years; some folks are offended by resistance to cutting down the rest.

Yesterday I pictured the hills of Phleger Estate full of big, fat, ancient trees, so few of which survive outside the bounds of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Had to imagine it, because I sure couldn’t see any.

Think about that next time you’re walking through a “second growth” redwood forest. That is, think of it gone.

We have spectacular parks and trails in the lands where the redwoods have regenerated. In our lifetimes these these trees have essentially always been here. But between 1850 and the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, these hills we prize were logged almost to the last tree. The only ones left standing were in extremely remote locales like Big Basin, kept alive mainly because they were too far from the nearest roads to be profitably cut down.

It’s depressing to think of all the trees they killed to turn a buck, but it’s hopeful to think about people’s attitudes changing. These days it’s far more fashionable to save a forest than cut it down (at least in the United States, where we export our environmental degradation to less prosperous climes).

Maybe being surrounded by such these huge masses of biomatter in a relaxed, recreational state — divorced from the demands of commerce — speaks to us on some molecular level that our conscious mind can’t comprehend. Like maybe they’re saying “we’re alive, you’re alive, and we’re together in this business of survival.”

Or something. Whatever it is, I get it in the redwoods in ways that never seem to happen anywhere else.