The bones left by the logging industry
A lookout house built on a tall Redwood stump
Picture by Peter Fassold, Palmquist Collection at Humboldt State University
A pine tree overtaking a fallen Redwood
Picture by Paul Everett
Stump. The word seems self referential; unattractive and cut off. When the thing sits opposite to what a stump was in its former life it can seem a contrast to beauty, and often times it is ignored as a used-to-be; Something that was and is not anymore. Logging in Humboldt County began in the late 1800's and continues today. The evidence of the early years of intense redwood logging can be spotted all over the county in the form of massive, slow to rot, redwood stumps.
Redwood trees are known for their self healing. Whole new trees, genetically identical to their original, spring up from burled roots and live on after a tree is cut, often times overtaking the original stump and growing around it, an alternative regeneration of forest space.
Sometimes the burl wears itself out and the redwood stump is resigned to play host for other living things that feed on rot and burrow in the holes left by disappearing roots. Epiphytic moss, mushrooms, lichens, ferns and the tree dwelling bush, the Huckleberry, all spring to life directly from the stumps of the area. Insects and small creatures, cold blooded and warm, also call these remnants home.
In Fieldbrook, a small valley community a few miles east of McKinleyville, there is a Redwood stump left from the logging that happened there in the 1890s. The stump is 35 feet in diameter at it’s base and before it was cut, the Redwood stood 308 feet tall and was 1280 years old from it’s ring count. The General Sherman, the largest living tree in the world, is 30 feet in diameter at it’s base and 274.9 feet tall, to give perspective on the size of the Fieldbrook Stump. The cut made from the lowest point of sawed tree was the focus of a devised newspaper story involving the famous William Waldorf Astor, claiming he made a $50,000 bar room bet that he could create a table from a Redwood cut that would seat 40 guests. The bet was proven to be a hoax* but the cut was, in fact, sent to England and sits in the Astor Estate garden.
A cross section of the Fieldbrook tree resides at the Blue Ox Historic Village in Eureka and, though not a stump, is not quite a tree either and is kin to the remnants left by the heavy logging of the area. It looms over the humans that come to visit it and count its rings. A section above the cut on display became a roadside attraction in Eureka called The Stump House which sold burl and novelties. It is no longer there.
Stumps carry their own beauty when not viewed as an epitaph. However, the constant reminder that something magnificent only exists in shadow in the present may prove too important to see past. But the stumps of the once lush and far ranging Redwood Forest do create their own beauty, if a choice can be made to find the beauty in what is, while still being able to mourn what is gone.
An employee at The Blue Ox Millworks Living History Park explains how old this cross cut of the Fieldbrook Stump is.
(Hover over the pictures for more information)
"The redwood is one of the few conifers that sprout from the stump and roots, and it declares itself willing to begin immediately to repair the damage of the lumberman and also that of the forest-burner."