JUST ONE: Western Red-cedar

We drift in a liminal space these days, caught between a past that’s just out of reach and a future that never comes into focus. Floating in a murky emotional soup of fear, longing, resignation and hope, we grope blindly for some shred of reassurance. At a time like this the thoroughly solid presence of old trees can be a welcome comfort. Maybe you’ve been lingering under big trees, consciously or unconsciously seeking solace. In the Pacific Northwest, the Western Red-cedar is one tree whose benign, gentle presence can soothe and center frayed nerves.

My wish is that you could stand beneath this

stately tree-being, stand there quietly,

breathe along with bark, leaves,

and roots.

Bend your head way back and gaze far

up into the branches until your eyes tire. Peer closely

at the russet-colored bark and discover life

hidden in the darkest fissures. Trace the wide arc

of a single branch as it dips down, then

climbs back up towards the light.

Squat down,

follow the sensuous twists and curves of roots until

they disappear into the thick, spongy duff.

Inhale the sharp, fresh fragrance and listen to the

soft shushing of swaying branches.

Commune. Lose yourself

in the presence of this graceful tree,

forget the news,

shake off your worries.

*

1.

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7.
8.

*

There are times when we suffer; there are times when the Red-cedars suffer. They fall, they burn in fires, they’re attacked by fungi and beetles, felled by loggers and stressed by climatic changes. Those that are taken from the forest may become shingles, siding, outdoor furniture, even caskets. Those that fall become new homes for fungi, plants and animals. Those that rot at the base may still stand, their hollows sheltering bears and other animals. Those that are burned nourish the soil.

*

9.
10. Fire destroyed these giants on the Trail of Cedars in Newhalem, Washington, in 2015.

11. This venerable tree made it through the fire that killed the trees in the photo above.
12. The trunk of this old Red-cedar looks dead but branches on the right side are alive and reaching for light.

13. Feathers scattered over old and new Red-cedar leaves tell a sad tale.

14. A Western hemlock and a tiny Western Red-cedar take root in the shelter of a rotting driftwood log.

15. Receiving the light.

*

The Red-cedar tree (and its relative the Alaska or Yellow-cedar) has played an outsized role in the lives of people living in the Pacific Northwest coastal areas. Regarded as the ‘tree of life’ by the Kakawaka’wakw, the species was, and still is, highly respected by all Northwest coast indigenous cultures. Ceremonial uses for the tree were not separate from other uses but were an integral part of everyday life. Nearly every part of the tree could be put to medicinal use. The bark, which was stripped off the tree in manageable quantities so the tree wasn’t harmed, was used for a wide variety of everyday objects like clothing, mats, dishes, ropes – the list goes on. Exceptionally large trees were once abundant in the forests so houses were built from Red-cedar poles, beams and planks. The straight-grained, rot-resistant, buoyant wood is not too hard to be worked with stone tools. Canoes are still made by Pacific Northwest tribes from carefully selected Red-cedar trees. Annual inter-tribal canoe journeys that keep these traditions alive, have taken place every summer since the 1980’s. In coastal forests, particularly in British Columbia, there are numerous culturally modified trees (CMT’s). These trees show evidence of being stripped of pieces bark or wood or otherwise modified for indigenous use, long ago or more recently. They are a living historical record and are respected as such.

*

16.
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20.

They’re not cedars, by the way. In fact, Thuja plicata is a member of the Cypress family, along with our native junipers; true cedars are native to the Old World. American cedar chests, with their familiar, moth-repellent, aromatic fragrance, were made from Eastern red-cedar, which is a juniper tree that grows in the eastern half of the U.S. But enough confusion! There is no mistaking Western red-cedar once you’ve seen it a few times. With its distinctive, vertically patterned bark, curved branches and gracefully drooping sprays of evergreen foliage, it is a dominant tree of the moist, lowland forests within its range.

Though its cones are small and often overlooked, they tell the story of Red-cedar’s reproduction. Both male and female cones are found on each tree. After developing in the previous summer, pollen cones shed their pollen into the wind in March. Around here that means several weeks of sneezing and dusty-looking cars. Seed cones trap and funnel the drifting pollen into ovules, where fertilization takes place in May. By September, the seed cones have matured and turned brown and can begin releasing seeds, to be carried by the wind. They’ll land some distance from the parent tree. Some will sprout into seedlings but the seedlings often have a tough time surviving. Perhaps as insurance, Red-cedar trees can also reproduce vegetatively. Low-hanging and fallen branches can root and even fallen trees may develop new, viable branches.

The oldest known Western red-cedar trees are well over a thousand years old; the biggest trees include one on Vancouver Island that is about 20′ (6m) in diameter and 182′ (56m) tall, and one on the Oregon coast that measured about 17′ in diameter and 153′ tall in 2010. In the face of this kind of longevity it might be worthwhile to ponder the fate of the scores of human generations that have lived and passed away while these old giants have persisted.

My wish for you is that you can relax under an old Red-cedar tree – but any big tree near you will do. My wish for the trees themselves is that no more Red-cedars suffer damaging harm from human causes – or at the very least, that no more giants are logged.

*

21. An imperfect photograph of a perfect pair: Barred owls sheltering in a Red-cedar tree.

***

More “Just One” posts can be found by scrolling down to the Categories section below.


84 comments

  1. I enjoyed reading every word and contemplating each photo in this post. I have probably seen Red Cedars when I drove through Oregon five years ago, and now wish I had taken the time to stop and look at them much closer. Maybe next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Next time for sure, if you’re back this way. Travel seems difficult right now. I’m very happy that you enjoyed the post so much and I appreciate your comment! Stay well, Hien. 🙂

      Like

  2. Quel plaisir de se promener au milieu de ces majestueux arbres, de s’en approcher, d’en toucher l’écorce, le rugueux…j’ai l’impression d’en sentir l’odeur…magnifique et merci…
    Et juste désolée de n’avoir pas encore répondu à tous tes beaux commentaires, j’e n’arrive plus à suivre ces temps, car j’ai décidé de faire un mail-images chaque jour à mes amis proches, depuis le début du confinement…et je réponds à leurs réponses quand il y en a…et il y en a souvent…sourire…mais j’ai tout lu avec grand plaisir…sourire encore..alors pour eux aussi, merci !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ne vous inquiétez pas, je comprends. Merci pour ce commentaire, et pour m’avoir fait savoir que vous êtes ici … quelle idée généreuse, de rester en contact tous les jours, mais c’est tellement facile de se laisser submerger par les emails. Je suis toujours en retard, comme je pense que vous le savez! Je suis content que vous ayez apprécié le post – ce sont de magnifiques arbres. Rester bien! Sourire…

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  3. #1 is a stately portrait. I like the leaves (or leaf shadows) hanging down near the top.
    The curves in the tree bark in #2 sweep the viewer’s eyes upward.
    Good closeup details in #6.
    At the top of #7 I imagined a green stick figure running.
    Nice patterning in #17, almost fern-like.
    The picture on the right in #18 looks like asparagus.
    It’s good in #21 that the barred owls weren’t barred from that perch in the tree.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Steve. #1 is indeed a very stately individual, standing near a parking lot at Deception Pass SP, keeping guard. 🙂 The bark on these trees (and many others) never fails to fascinate – there’s so much to discover. I see that guy in #7 but I don’t think he got far. I guess there’s a similarity in the pattern of how the leaves/scales overlap between this plant and asparagus – maybe others, too. Probably. We would NEVER bar the Barred owls…they were right outside our door and we were thrilled to see them. But it’s sad that they are more successful than the Spotted owl, which is in trouble. Apparently the Barred owl is taking over the Spotted owl’s range. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-spotted-owls-new-nemesis-131610387/
      Thanks for your attention, Steve (I fixed that mistake!) :-0 Have a great weekend.

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    • Oh, that’s very good to hear! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I try to balance the poetic side and the more prosaic side, and your comment seems to say that effort succeeded. Thank you so much

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  4. Wonderful photos, you never fail, and those handsome owls are such a great surprise present at the end. #11 has a nice silvery, century-old look to it, nice stillness, and #15 is my particular favorite, a small, graceful worship.
    But your opening and poem are just lovely!!
    I thought I knew, from context, what “duff” meant, and was right, but glad to know that word, I’d only known duffer, and this is better. Congratulations on a fine post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And you never fail to make me feel good…I’m smiling, thank you, Robert. Funny thing, I was scrolling through some old photos and noticed the owls, saw they were perched in a Red-cedar and realized they’d be the perfect ending. What you said about #15 and the opening “poem” is encouraging – thank you for that. Another funny thing – I googled duff just to be sure I wasn’t misremembering the meaning and found that the word had taken on new meanings, and they aren’t particularly nice. Oh well. Thank you again…have a good weekend!

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  5. A wonderful homage to the western red cedar, Lynn. Your opening two images convey their awe inspiring size and beauty. Your detail shots especially the bark textures are stunning, love the vintage looking monochrome and your owls end it all with a bang. Terrific post. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A wonderful post, Lynn! We have red cedars (aka junipers) around our lake in Minnesota, and we treasure them dearly. We saw some of your giants during a road trip to the west coast a few years ago, and I stood in true awe to be in their seemingly-timeless presence, an experience I’ll never forget. A few comments:
    1 Magnificent, it really glows with ebullient life.
    4 Looks like the foot of an ent, ready to move on, however long it takes.
    6 Fascinating textures, want to stroke them gently.
    9 A natural otter pathway.
    11 Beautiful portrait. Would love to see it considerably darker.
    20 Intimate and eloquent.
    21 Not at all imperfect; I’d suggest a much closer crop and accentuating the highlights, especially of the one on the right.
    More, please!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The name business is so confusing! We have some junipers here, too, and I’m very fond of them. Your comments are falling on very appreciative ears – well, eyes. With #11, I can see that there could be lots of different ways to process it. Maybe I’ll try your suggestion. I’m glad you mentioned #20. As for the owls, it’s already a significant crop and the sharpness/noise issues are certainly there, but I could try that. I do appreciate hearing your take on specific images and your ideas. Thank you! (Re “More please” – there is another giant here, the Douglas fir, that I want to honor, too. A very different kind of tree – rugged instead of graceful, etc. One of these days I’ll get to it!).

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In a way, trees are the mothers of nature. I really like that idea and feel it that way. They shelter birds, store seeds, protect from the sun, shelter from rain, are “nest and warmth”… and transmit with their roots the firmness and security that any “child” likes to feel …

    …yes, at this moment, when insecurity is in all of us and when we are all “children” … welcome are the trees that here and there are anchors for our emotions … just as important are the people whose sensitivity (and images) strengthens this solidarity and visual security that we need so much. As Lynn does in this post!
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That sounds like a very good idea, Sheri. We’ll be cooler up here, but still quite warm. I’m afraid the parks are going to get trampled…oh well, people need to be outside! Thank you for your comment and enjoy the outdoor work session! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • There were many people out around our area, so they definitely came out for hiking etc. But there was a huge lit sign next the freeway exit that Rattlesnake Lake and Ledge trail were closed, so it diverted traffic from running up and down our neighbor hill to find out. So nice they did that saving gas & time for visitors and traffic & noise for the locals. 🙂 We haven’t checked on Middle Fork yet. I’m hoping it’s open and they just close a couple ‘too popular’ trail heads within it, if necessary. It was wonderful to write in the yard. I worked 9 hours out there over Saturday and Sunday. Sweet!

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      • It’s warm here as well; our 12 new solar panels are working overtime.👍 We have WRc wood on our back façade. All our neighbors put paint or whatever on it because they didn’t believe the wood could do without it.. Take care! ✋

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  8. Yes, your first sentence is very true; I’m ok, but I just seem to be getting more and more weary, physically and mentally, tho still managing early, 90 minute walks.

    Absolutely LOVE the owls!!! And the more I look at it the more I think photo 8 is the standout here for me; I keep going back to look at it and I keep seeing more in it. I also very much like 2, 6, 9 and 20. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • It seems to drag us down, even though we haven’t lost our jobs, haven’t been sick, etc. Still, it pervades, doesn’t it? I’m glad you’re still getting out – I’m sure that helps. And of course, being creative is key.
      I’m glad you enjoyed those owls – we sure did! You have encouraged me (and I’m sure others, too) by your continuing reminders about sharpness not being everything. It’s interesting that you settled on #8. It’s peaceful, I think. Thank you, Adrian, for your presence and comments.

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      • I’m very grateful to have been a source of encouragement re reminders about sharpness not being the Holy Grail! In some situations this is not true, or course, but I do get the feeling that in many other instances it is mindlessly pursued, which to me betrays a dreadful lack of imagination.

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  9. Aaaah Lynn, your beautiful tribute to the Western Red Cedar makes me instantly aware how much I miss the woodlands I haven’t seen at all this year. I could lose myself in this hommage and my favourites are the three opening images. The first being grand and majestic, the second showing the spectacular size awesomeness and the third is simply wondrous dreamyflimsy. The owls are ❤ <3!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a wonderful comment, Dina, thank you so much. What you say about realizing how much you miss the woods reminds me of what it’s like when I’m away from the ocean for a long time and return to it – the same feeling, I think. These days we have to settle for smaller horizons, but we’re doing our best with what we have. 😉 Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A beautiful post Lynn, about one of my favourite trees. Your photos are exquisite. There’s a grove of these trees in Queen Elizabeth Park and I like to stand in the middle. It feels as if I’m being embraced, and grounded, by one being.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s nice to know you appreciate the photos since you must know this tree well. Groves of them are really special – it’s such a great feeling being among them, I hear you! Thank you so much. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. When you stand at the foot of a red cedar, particularly a big one, and look up, it has very much an “old man of the forest” feel. Almost Ent like. A tree lessor trees come to visit much like the cartoon of seekers scaling a mountain top to visit the guru. The only other trees that give me that sense are the redwoods.

    BTW, I particularly like how you processed that B/W at #17.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know this tree, so I appreciate your attention, Dave. And it’s funny, you’re the second person who mentioned Redwoods. Thank you for stopping by and commenting (and I’m glad you like #17. There are so many ways to ‘skin a cat’ and that way seemed good for that image). Stay healthy and enjoy the rest of your week!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love your Wanderings and Observations. Your attention to visual detail is so compelling. I appreciate the delight and peace you experience with each discovery. Thank you for honoring the Cedars and all the life that surrounds them. We need this place of respite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Sue, it’s good to hear from you! Honoring the Cedars is exactly what I was trying to do. It’s good of you to let me know you were here, and that you enjoyed the post. The delight continues… 😉 Stay happy and healthy!

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  13. Dear Lynn
    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and pictures. This post came just in time as our dear Master got the commission to write a longer article about the colour green. Your post shows beautiful pictures of the power of life. We live here at the coast of North Norfolk without woods, even more, we enjoyed these pictures of those enormous trees. The other day we read that those huge redwood trees are the biggest living being on earth.
    All the best, keep well
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Redwoods are incredible – there’s no way to see the whole tree, it’s just too big. They’re similar to the Redcedars and not TOO far away (northern California) but that’s too far to visit for us now. Every landscape is so different – yours is so spacious….I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I hope it has helped inspire you for writing the article – that should be a good one! Take care and stay healthy. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Drear Lynn,
        thank you very much 🙏🙏
        So much green of your post’s pictures inspired me writing my article. The first draft is finished and now it has to rest for a week for the final version.
        Your landscape is that different from the landscape where we live. We always see lots and lots of sky and the wide open spaces of the beaches, salt marshes and the sea.
        All the best, keep well and safe
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  14. How do you get words like that to come out?

    I don’t usually say which images are my favorites because they are always all so good…..but this time #1 really blew me away!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, Howard, such a nice comment, thank you very much. The words sometimes begin easily but always need editing, and I often find that letting things sit for a day or two really helps. I remind myself to think about the essence of what I’m trying to convey, to think about sensory processes, and to think about feelings. 🙂 I hope all’s well with you!

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  15. Anything Mother Nature can be soothing and create a feeling of comfort in these times. But trees, yes, trees, indeed. The cedar is a special tree, or maybe it’s just me because I didn’t grow up with cedars in my nature. Majestic and beautiful. Love theses photos, also the ones non-cedar, but my favourite is definitely the first one. Gorgeous light that brings out the texture of the trunk, like a fantasy.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “forget the news,
    shake off your worries.”

    That’s easy, dear Lynn, when I follow the words you use to draw the giant tree friend. And not only visually I follow you, but with all my senses. How full of emotions your opening text is.

    It is no wonder that these powerful cypresses have always had great mythological and ritual significance for people in addition to their economic importance. You show their overwhelming beauty with your photographic skills at their best. I admire to the same extent the photos that you took with a small aperture and that show the wonderful details meticulously, as I like the images with an open aperture, in which you set the focus so precisely.

    The small insight into your drawing art is very special, a pleasure of great finesse. It makes me want to take a drawing pencil inmy hand again (I’ve been trying to get started for a while now and then).

    There is not always enough time to enjoy your lovingly and precisely informative texts. This time I really took my time – sitting in the summer garden with nice music (to retouch the sounds from the neighborhood), the study of biology and history is a pure pleasure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a beautiful comment, Ule, thank you. The idea was to engage the emotions as well as impart some information, so I’m pleased that you used the word, “emotions.” I’m getting better at reminding myself to use smaller apertures. I used to photograph details at wider apertures and then I would wonder why the image wasn’t sharp! 🙂 I know what you mean about trying to get started drawing. I was struck by how much slower it is than photography. That’s an obvious fact but it was brought home powerfully when I sat down and tried to draw that little branch. It’s so easy NOT to draw! Too easy.
      What a joy to imagine you in the garden, slowly looking at the post, with music…thank you again! (I only wish I could have been there).

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  17. They are all wonderful defining images of the wonder Western Red Cedar, Lynn. But the first is magnificent, not only for its own splendor but the light illuminating the massive anchor created by the spread of the trunk and roots is awe inspiring. I wish we had trees of that wonder and beauty. We have wonderful trees and a few old growth giants but none can compare. And whooo cooks for you ask those beautiful owls. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  18. What a lovely paean to the glorious red cedar. Thank heaven I didn’t miss the barred owl pair. We had a single owl visit us one evening. Red Cedars and owls certainly are very special. You’ve done them both justice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 Thank you, Gunta! We saw another Barred owl last week being harassed by Robins. I hope it didn’t get their young but I suspect they haven’t hatched yet, and the Robins just didn’t want to owl around.

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