This summer, artist and gallery owner Donovan invited me to participate in an exciting new exhibit, simply titled, “REDWOOD.” From September 2nd to November 30th, Oli Gallery will feature the work of several local artists, all painting on the theme of our amazing local redwood trees.
Donovan’s invitation was a perfect opportunity for me to pivot from my explorations of one California treasure—our golden poppies—to another. As I thought about these majestic coniferous trees, I remembered the preview hikes I had taken at Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve. The park is an oasis of 1,192 acres of rugged natural beauty that is expected to open to the public in 2024.
Today, the land remains mostly undeveloped, with winding trails amidst redwood forest habitats together with a mix of riparian, grassland, chaparral, oak woodland and douglas fir. The park’s vistas provide sweeping views of the Mayacamas Mountains, Mount Saint Helena, and the Russian River Valley across the Santa Rosa Plain to the Coastal Range Mountains.
In October 2017, the Tubbs Fire, one of the largest wildfires in California’s history, swept through the park. Several structures were lost as the fire damaged vegetation across a patchwork of terrain, though some locations were completely untouched. The resilient natural habitat, abundant with native plant species including fire-resistant coastal redwoods, bay and big leaf maple, are well-adapted to wildfire events, and regrowth is already occurring. I decided I wanted to feature the story of the redwoods: their glory, ecosystem, and amazing recovery.
(L) Reaching for the Stars; (R) A New Dawn
1. “Reaching for the Stars”
The Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the Coastal Redwood, are the tallest tree species in the world. Soaring to heights of more than 300 feet, the tops of mature redwoods are often out of sight. This is especially true in their coastal habitat, where condensing fog can supply up to 40% of their moisture intake. This composition features an imagined view of towering redwoods ascending into the night sky and reaching for the stars.
Shown in the background, Mount St. Helena is one of the most visible landmarks in Sonoma County. Its sprawling flanks actually span three counties: Sonoma, Napa, and Lake. For the native Wappo, who call it “Kanamota” (Human Mountain), it is a sacred place and represents the birthplace of their people.
My first hike at Mark West Creek Regional Park took place after the Tubbs fire. Despite the fire scarred landscape, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the beauty of our coastal redwoods. I am regularly inspired by the plants that not only survive these intense burnings, but actually flourish. Regeneration after their “trial by fire” literally reshaped these redwoods. In a similar way, challenges can reshape us, and the result can be wonderful, new growth.
Fire is also symbolic of cleansing or refining, as seen in the Scriptures: “For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.” (Malachi 3:2). This is true of redwood forests, where fire can cleanse the forest understory, the underlying layer of vegetation beneath the trees.
3. “A New Dawn”
This piece features young redwood shoots coming up after the fire. The first time I came across this photo in 2018, I was struck by the contrast between the new growth and the charred redwood trees behind. Seeing the fresh green shoots against the charred black bark filled me with a sense of hope.
These signs of renewal bring solace in the face of the devastation caused by the Tubbs fire.
We often see stumps or burned trees as a sign of loss, but they also represent a new beginning. When fire clears the understory of a forest, it removes invasive brush, making way for new growth by providing nutrients and light. Fire also tends to preserve the strongest trees, so it can improve the overall health of a forest. Redwoods are naturally equipped with a thick, fibrous park that helps to insulate them from damage, while their high tannin content serves as a natural fire suppressant.
Cultural burning was a traditional practice carried out by native peoples which served to manage the land and mitigate future fires. Not far from where I live, Pepperwood Preserve has partnered with native land stewards to perform the first cultural burn in 200 years -- one of the many ways indigenous knowledge is invaluable to our protection of the habitat today. Read more about this practice here.