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Boy Scout Tree

August 26/Day 40. There is a photograph dating from the 1920s that depicts a troop of Boy Scouts, neatly dressed in their uniforms, standing in front of this tree. Hence the name: Boy Scout Tree. The Boy Scout Tree Trail begins about halfway down the Howland Hill road, so narrow in places my truck’s mirrors nearly scrape giant redwoods standing across from each other.

The trail is 2.8 miles long and leads deeper into the forest than did the Mill Creek Trail. It’s also somewhat hillier, but otherwise virtually indistinguishable from Mill Creek. At 8:30 a.m., I’m the first person in the parking pullout at the trail head. I strike out on the path, which runs uphill at the beginning. Notwithstanding the initial ascent, it’s an easy trail; about half of it is smooth-packed dirt and the rest is partly rocky or rough because of protruding roots.

Slowed somewhat because of my painful heel, I wind for about an hour through the verdant ferns, mosses and tangled understory, and among numberless great redwoods before reaching the tree for which the trail is named.

I try to climb the tree

And it is huge. It stands out among its giant brethren, an unmistakable behemoth. I take a few pictures of the tree, aware that they can’t possibly convey its size. I even try a couple of self-portraits by balancing my camera on a log and running to the tree while its timer ticks down.

Then, finding a place to sit, I simply remain motionless awhile. There is almost no sound in the forest. No chirping of birds or skittering of little creatures on the forest floor. All I hear is the hooting complaint of a distant owl, no doubt upset because I’ve disturbed his domain so early in the day. Soon he falls silent too, and all that remains is quietude so absolute it muffles my ears unnaturally, as if they had cotton balls stuffed in them. Nothing, not even the most delicate frond bowing to a breeze, moves. Perfect stillness.

After a while—I couldn’t count it in minutes—another hiker appears and the quiet is broken. The usual trail chatter ensues: where ya from, how long ya been here, where ya headed, blah, blah, etc. Unlike anywhere elsewhere, I find it easy to make conversation with fellow travellers, whether in camp or on the trail. It’s a big part of why I love this lifestyle: because, well—it makes me feel normal. Nobody here wants to talk about sports scores, who’s been traded to what team, the latest scandal in Washington, which celebrity is married to whom, or who’s winning American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. None of that.

I try to hug the tree

Among the peculiarities I notice along the way are burls, nurse logs, and iterations. Burls are growths, often massive, that sometimes form on a tree where it’s been injured, perhaps by lightning or a collision with a fallen neighbor. They are similar to benign tumors and can take on any shape; some people see faces in them, or animals, like one sometimes sees in clouds. Nurse logs are fallen redwoods that have begun to decay. Because for centuries they’ve been sucking up an concentrating  nutrients from the soil, they’re an ideal medium for supporting newly sprouted seeds from many species that inhabit the forest. And iterations, perhaps the strangest of all, are differing species whose seeds have somehow found a resting place way up on the side of a tree, where they sprout and become trees themselves. Typically an iteration will grow straight out from its host tree for a foot or so, then turn 90 degrees upward, reaching for the sun. There can be iterations upon iterations; up to eight have been counted by scientists who study them.

My new friend leaves after about 20 minutes. I give him a respectful head start and turn back down the trail myself, at a strolling pace, not hiking. By the time I reach my truck it’s approaching mid-afternoon. I drive the second half of Howland Hill Road to its end in Crescent City, by the sea. Stopping at McDonald’s, I try to catch up my last two or three blogs, but their wifi is unbearably slow so I give up. At Safeway I stock up on more fresh produce; I haven’t opened a can since I started the trip. Camping with a fully stocked refrigerator is quite the luxury.

NOTE: Sunday morning I start the two-day drive to Burning Man. Unfortunately, I’m unlikely to have any internet access for the next week, so I’ll be incommunicado until I reach Lake Tahoe. Thanks for coming along…

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