These are the redwood forests of California, the only trees of their kind in the world and indigenous only to these two areas within the State. The coast timber is known botanically as sequoia sempervirens, that in the interior as sequoia gigantea. As the name indicates, the latter is the larger species of the two, although the fibre of the timber is coarser and the wood softer and consequently less valuable commercially than the sequoia sempervirens—which in Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Marin, and Sonoma counties has been almost wholly logged off, because of its accessibility. In northern Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties, however, sixty years of logging seems scarcely to have left a scar upon this vast body of timber. Notwithstanding sixty years of attrition, there remain in this section of the redwood belt thousands upon thousands of acres of virgin timber that had already attained a vigorous growth when Christ was crucified. In their vast, sombre recesses, with the sunlight filtering through their branches two hundred and fifty feet above, one hears no sound save the tremendous diapason of the silence of the ages; here, more forcibly than elsewhere in the universe, is one reminded of the littleness of man and the glory of his creator.
In sizes ranging from five to twenty feet in diameter, the brown trunks rise perpendicularly to a height of from ninety to a hundred and fifty feet before putting forth a single limb, which frequently is more massive than the growth which men call a tree in the forests of Michigan. Scattered between the giants, like subjects around their king, one finds noble fir, spruce, or pines, with some Valparaiso live oak, black oak, pepper-wood, madrone, yew, and cedar.
In May and June, when the twisted and cowering madrone trees are putting forth their clusters of creamy buds, when the white blossoms of the dogwoods line the banks of little streams, when the azaleas and rhododendrons, lovely and delicate as orchids, blaze a bed of glory, and the modest little oxalis has thrust itself up through the brown carpet of pine-needles and redwood-twigs, these wonderful forests cast upon one a potent spell. To have seen them once thus in gala dress is to yearn thereafter to see them again and still again and grieve always in the knowledge of their inevitable death at the hands of the woodsman.
John Cardigan settled in Humboldt County, where the sequoia sempervirens attains the pinnacle of its glory, and with the lust for conquest hot in his blood, he filed upon a quarter-section of the timber almost on the shore of Humboldt Bay—land upon which a city subsequently was to be built. With his double-bitted axe and crosscut saw John Cardigan brought the first of the redwood giants crashing to the earth above which it had towered for twenty centuries, and in the form of split posts, railroad ties, pickets, and shakes, the fallen giant was hauled to tidewater in ox-drawn wagons and shipped to San Francisco in the little two-masted coasting schooners of the period. Here, by the abominable magic of barter and trade, the dismembered tree was transmuted into dollars and cents and returned to Humboldt County to assist John Cardigan in his task of hewing an empire out of a wilderness.