The road became the California Coast Highway, and the Sillett brothers and Marwood Harris drove past Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, in Del Norte County. They didn't stop to look at the redwoods there. They went through Crescent City, a tired-looking town. They passed a Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant, and a lumber mill, and bars and taverns, dark in daylight, where you could get a beer for a dollar and maybe get a fractured skull for nothing.
The redwood forests around Crescent City had been logged. The road went past stretches of open land covered with bare stumps, and past seas of young redwood trees growing on timber-company land, which looked like plantations of fuzzy Christmas trees. Here and there on the ridges were a few last stands of virgin, ancient redwoods, looming above everything else. They looked like Mohawk haircuts.
The road entered Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and the highway was suddenly lined with extremely tall redwoods. Steve Sillett began thrashing around in the back of the Crypt. "Stop the car! I'm getting out."
Marwood pulled off to the side of the road. Steve squeezed out of the back seat and took off, running into the forest. Scott and Marwood waited in the car.
"What's he doing?"
"He's looking at the trees."
They rolled down the windows. "Steve! We're not there yet! Get back in the fricking car!"
Twenty miles farther down the road, they came to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The park occupies a sliver of wrinkled terrain, eight miles long and four miles wide, lying along the Pacific Ocean on the northern edge of Humboldt County. The North Coast along those parts is covered with rain forests, and the forests are often hidden in clouds and fog. The beaches along the North Coast are made of gray sand, gnawed by waves the color of steel. The beaches rise into bluffs, which become the California Coast Ranges, a maze of ridges and steep, narrow valleys, clad with deep temperate rain forest. The forest is dominated by coast redwoods.
As they entered the park, Steve was hunched over, staring at a map. Marwood slowed to a crawl. Trucks whipped past them. Steve ordered Marwood to stop, and he pulled off the highway and rammed the Blue Vinyl Crypt into the underbrush, to get it out of sight. They were planning to camp in some wild spot among the redwoods, but it is illegal to camp in the redwood parks except in a few public campgrounds, and they didn't want the rangers to notice their car.
They put on their backpacks and hurried along a trail that went westward, climbing toward a ridge and the ocean, passing through a redwood forest. The trees had stony-gray bark. They looked like the columns of a ruined temple. The ground was made up of rotting redwood needles, and it was covered with sword ferns-tall, stiff ferns- growing chest high. Everywhere there were spatters of redwood sorrel- small, emerald-green plants with heart-shaped leaves.
The trail came to the crest of a ridge and dropped down into a valley that opened toward the ocean. As they went over the ridge, the sound of trucks on the highway faded away. A hush came over the world, and it grew dark. There was no sunlight at the bottom of the redwood forest, only a dim, gray-green glow, like the light at the bottom of the sea. The air grew sweet, and carried a tang of lemons. They became aware of a vast forest canopy spreading over their heads.
Steve Sillett moved out ahead along the trail, and Marwood Harris followed close behind him. Scott Sillett lingered, holding his binoculars in his hands and looking and listening for birds. It was so quiet in the redwood forest that he could hear the sound of his breathing. The trunks of the redwoods were grooved pedestals extending upward into hidden structures. He imagined that they were silent ruined towers of Middle-earth. Birds were moving in the canopy, but the birds were few and were quiet, for they don't sing in the autumn. He was hoping to see a varied thrush.
Excerpted from The Wild Trees by Richard Preston Copyright © 2007 by Richard Preston. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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