Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

A closer look at the tallest trees in the world

February 9, 2018 at 8:44 AM

Tree rings of a 2,200-year-old redwood tree are on display in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in California. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/)
Coastal redwood bark in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/)

“No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree,” John Steinbeck states in his book Travels with Charley: In Search of America.” “The feeling they produce is not transferrable. … They are ambassadors from another time.”  But for Washington Post photographer Carolyn Van Houten, this was a challenge worth embracing when she joined Washington Post senior national correspondent Scott Wilson on assignment in California last month.

The two went along with scientists in California who are mapping the redwood genome to save the worlds single biggest greenhousegas sponge from coastal erosion and climate change

Related: [Decoding the Redwoods]

Van Houten, who had seen the redwoods once before, found capturing the over 2,000year-old trees and conveying their mysticism and impressive scale complicatedespecially on foot. “It’s difficult to get a full picture of the scope of a redwood tree in all its layers, she said.

As she and Wilson hiked around the trees and their “fairy rings” — what Wilson calls the “old-growth ancestors … encircled by the young” — she found herself being equally drawn to the details of the trees. From the way light danced across the tree’s fire-resistant bark to the dizzying and hypnotizing patterns of the tree’s rings, Van Houten found that “there is just as much to learn from the more approachable parts of the tree.”

These abstract and almost futuristic images provide an intimate look at America’s iconic redwoods while also highlighting the trees’ impressive ability to withstand time. As Van Houten notes, “Like the light traveling from a star, the rings on a redwood tree are beautiful, tangible indicators of time’s passing.”

Read more on In Sight:

From bees to bison, dinner tables with unusual guest

The hidden world of seeds

These are not the images of the moon you’re looking for

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.


Karly Domb Sadof is an award-winning photo editor at The Washington Post, currently working on the national news desk. She is also a contributing writer for In Sight, The Post’s photography blog. She joined The Post in 2016.

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