Saturday, January 24, 2009

Never Argue with a Redwood Tree

How do you share a redwood forest with the beings to whom it belongs? That is, how do you share living space with the actual trees, their spiritual grandeur, their sheer physical force?

Here's one example. It's the deck outside my front door, built around a young redwood tree. (Young in redwood time - the tree is about 120 years old.) The trunk is a handy place to lean a broom or a piece of firewood, or some old wooden axle hubs and iron rings from pioneer wagon wheels.

At deck height, which is about four feet above the ground, the trunk is five feet in diameter. When I first built the deck, the trunk was about four and a half feet in diameter. I allowed a two inch gap between deck and trunk, figuring a 100 year old tree wouldn't be expanding too quickly.


Ten years later, I had to cut the deck back because it was strangling the trunk.

Five years after that, I had to rebuild the foundation of the deck - and cut the decking farther back - because the tree was not only pushing against the decking but also lifting the foundation several inches out of level. Here's what a redwood tree thinks of maintaining levels, in this case with an eight inch slab of concrete:
The tree will keep expanding in girth and length until it reaches its maximum height in a few hundred years. The height, by the way, is limited at around 300 feet not because of wood strength but because it can't lift water any higher. It's a plumbing problem.

So one accommodates. One accepts that the tree is boss. One schedules rebuilding the deck every ten years or so. And one feels slightly queasy with the knowledge that occasionally one of these trees will drop a branch the size of a mature buckeye tree onto your roof - actually, through your roof. It's happened to me. Roofers are guaranteed steady income around here. One keeps tabs on the health of any trees within reach of the house, as they can come down hard and fast. Next door, twenty years ago my neighbor's house was crushed. One wonders about karma, about justice. One is aware that the decking surrounding this vigorous young tree was built of redwood two-by-sixes milled from some other tree, perhaps a cousin, in some nearby forest.


  1. I remember working around a western red cedar doing less damage.

    Had to saw the deck away from the trunk. It was not heaving anything yet.

    For my work, I get asked about this kind of thing fairly often.

    M. D. Vaden of Oregon

  2. Nice photos on your web site, Mario. You do interesting work. If you visit Big Basin, drop by my house. I'm not too far from there.

  3. Your story about giant sequoi (red wood tree) is amazing, terrible and terrific at the time!

  4. Peut-être je suis légèrement fou.

  5. very cool, looks just like my front deck.

  6. My one and only redwood tree -- now close to fifty feet tall -- is slowly but steadily lifting the concrete of my driveway. Bad planning by the previous owner, but I do love that tree anyway...

  7. Some day you may have to build an overpass...