A billowing thunderstorm rolls through a dark mountain valley. A bolt of lightning splits open the sky, and a tremendous roar shakes the Earth beneath.
A 2,000-year-old Redwood has been struck and a forest fire crackles through the treetops, before devouring the canopy and understory beneath it, reducing it all to ashes.
But not all hope is lost. Tiny sprouts pop out of the ashes: wildflowers and redwood sprouts. As time marches on, the trees grow taller and animals return to them. Other kinds of trees grow there, all while the redwoods get taller and taller, until 2,000 years later, when they have regained their royal status of “Kings and Queens of the Forest.” This type of change is called succession. Change is the driving force, sustaining life and the evolution of diversity.
Though this change may take many lifetimes to see completion, we all witness snapshots of it.
At WOLF School, we witness these snapshots weekly during our outdoor science school programs at Camp Monte Toyon, located in the redwood forest in Aptos, CA. Wanting to capture these snapshots and give meaning behind the big picture, WOLF School has recently undertaken a study to monitor Redwood tree growth and investigate the communities within the Redwood forests. A better understanding of these stately trees leads to better protective measures and a greater appreciation of their grandeur. Scientific studies can create Redwood stewards who understand both the biological importance and natural significance of these grand trees.
The forest may be able to rebuild itself through succession and change, but without scientific understanding and a genuine love for the redwood community, these changes may not matter.