One of my favorite places in the world has always been California's most remote regions, far away from the crowds and traffic, the foggy Northwesternmost coast of Eureka and Arcata and Crescent City. Redwood country. It's a long ways from anywhere – five, six hours at least from San Francisco along some really winding roads. The chilly damp, grey-skied and very green forests aren't for everyone, but every time I've visited friends and vacationed there, I feel like I'm visiting somewhere I belong.
Part of that big appeal is the redwoods, utterly epic giants of trees that are so big they become your environment rather than just part of it. You can walk through a redwood forest and not even see the tops of most of the trees. It's a cool place, full of much mystery, and so Richard Preston's great book The Wild Trees is like a travelogue of another planet – the world that exists on top of the redwoods. A few years back Preston wrote a fascinating New Yorker article following those who explored the redwood canopy – 200, 300 feet above the ground, where unknown to science until only a few years ago, entire ecosystems had formed in the crowns of redwoods. There are epiphytes (plants growing on the redwoods), soil formed over decades, species of animals unknown to science, and much more. Preston later expanded that article into this deeply evocative book.
The Wild Trees is a must for anyone interested in how much we still don't know about the natural world. He digs into the stories of those spellbound by the redwoods, a handful of dreamers, botanists and adventurers who've been scaling the redwoods, searching for their secrets. Gradually folks like Humboldt University professor Stephen Sillett realize just how little anyone knows about the inaccesible peaks of tall trees, and that hidden in the foggy remote canyons of Northwestern Cailfornia are trees that are the tallest in the world.