Last month, I went on a TreeGirl tree hunt with my treegirl friend to the rainy Olympic Peninsula in western Washington State. The object of our desire was an ancient, thousand year old tree, and the former world's 'biggest' Western Redcedar tree (Thuja plicata, not a true cedar at all, but in the cypress family).
Before the trip, we had only seen one photo, and knew not yet where this tree resided. Would the tree be as magnificent as the picture and worthy of a treegirl photo shoot? Would we be able to find it? Would the unending rain in the rainforest let up while we captured our intimate encounter on film? Would we be able to be naked and not be seen by unsuspecting tree tourists exploring the country's fifth most visited National Park?
All this suspenseful anticipation is what makes a TreeGirl trip an adventure. This time, however, would be different: instead of my usual self-portrait done with a remote control timer, my friend allowed me to photograph her naked, having intimate moments with an ancient, giant Ent, known as the Kalaloch Cedar.
Once the champion Redcedar tree from 1955 to 1977, and no longer considered 'the biggest', (the biggest perhaps based on the current volume of wood), the Kalaloch tree has a measurement of a gnarled diameter of 19.8ft (6.03m).
The current champion, the Quinault Redcedar, only a few miles away, also within the boundaries of Olympic National Park, is the current champion Redcedar tree, and is amazing in its own right, also with stag horns at the top and very hollow on the inside, with stalactite-like 'knees' hanging down on the inside hollow cave of the tree. She is said to have a diameter of 19.5ft (5.94m) and is 174ft (53m) tall. ("Champion trees" are determined by a number of point factors, not simply girth or height.)
Onto the adventure…Fortunate for treegirls everywhere, the Kalaloch tree is on the Olympic National Park map, easily accessible off Hwy 101. But that would also mean plenty of unknowing tourists for whom we would need to use our treegirl invisibility capes.
By far, the Kalaloch tree is one of the most astounding, beautiful trees I have ever met. Towering above us, she is ancient and cavernous, mossy, gnarled with burls, roots, and worn off bark exposing what looks like muscles, bones and years of experience. She is a classic rainforest nurse tree growing other flora species such as salal, huckleberry, and young hemlock trees with roots cascading down from above. Strange stilts of what look like branches reaching for the forest floor give evidence of other now long-gone nurse logs; they look like the arms and legs of an Ent poised to crawl across the forest floor. She is an ecosystem to herself, completely interconnected with the rainforest, home for many forest critters, and a castle fit for a village of fairies or gnomes.
Everything was wet – the tree, the ground, the moist air drizzling rain down, and us. But the temperature was just warm and humid enough to work comfortably naked. My friend shared my sense of awe and connection and eagerly removed her clothes and slipped her legs and arms in and around the exposed roots and branches of the tree. A welcoming lover offering innumerable niches to intertwine and rest gracefully, there was not a bad photographic angle; a perfect tree for treegirls. We could have stayed there for days getting to know that tree and not have ever gotten bored. As my friend melted into the tree naturally, I shot frame after frame. She did not want to leave the comfort of her new companion. If she stayed, she would have merged with the tree I'm sure, hosting a few green leafy species herself.
Tourists came and went. Sometimes she hid, and sometimes she didn't. We simply apologized for the awkwardness, as did they, and seemingly un-phased, they continued their tour around the tree, took their own photos (of just the tree) and strolled back to their cars to hide from the rain.
After about an hour, or maybe more, because being in tree time is such an altered state of bliss, we finally and regrettably had to return to our rental car, half clothed as the sky became darker and the rain came down harder, washing away our treegirl footprints, fingerprints and amorous evidence. We sadly said goodbye to our new lover-friend, departing euphoric from our encounter of a lifetime.
TreeGirl is an author, photographer, arborist, naturalist, forest ecotherapist and conservation educator bridging humans with wild nature.