If you try to take a photo of a giant redwood using conventional equipment, you discover very quickly that you’re barking up the wrong tree.
Redwoods are a breed apart. They stand tall: the biggest, reaching upwards of 300 feet into the sky. So go ahead: Look up…twist your wide-angle lens wide open…fall down on your knees…crane your neck to an unnatural angle.
Do it all, and do it again.
Still, I guarantee you: You won’t get the entire tree in a single shot. You won’t manage to capture the majesty of the tree photographically.
Because here’s the thing: Even if you manage to squeeze everything you can see — trunk and needle-canopy — into a single frame, at some point it will occur to you that you’re seeing only the bottom layers of the tree’s greenery…and about a third of the tree’s actual height stretches above the visible limb-line.
So on some level, redwoods remain always a mystery when viewed from the forest floor — uncontainable, indescribable, beyond the power of our cameras, or our imagination.
And I suppose that’s why, for generations, people have described their encounters with redwoods in awed, reverential tones.
When he wasn’t busy building the Golden Gate Bridge, Joseph B. Strauss penned some of the most famous lines in that regard:
Here, sown by the Creator’s hand
In serried ranks the redwoods stand…
Sink down, O traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
True enough: The redwoods can teach us something about God, it seems to me. They stretch our conception of time, challenging us to think beyond the span of a human lifetime.
And more — they remind us that much as we think we know about the Mighty One…as much as we want to believe we’ve got our arms around God’s majesty, God’s mystery…there’s always going to be more for us to explore.