“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 world‘s single biggest greenhouse–gas sponge from coastal erosion and climate change.
Van Houten, who had seen the redwoods once before, found capturing the over 2,000–year-old trees and conveying their mysticism and impressive scale complicated — especially 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.”
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