Why you should care

Because everyone needs safe arbor.

I smelled it before I saw it. There’s a certain scent that redwood trees have after a rainstorm that Northern Californians know, probably because in Northern California it has always just rained (unless it’s just about to rain or currently raining or a four-year drought is in effect). There I was in the garden of Leonardo da Vinci’s château in France’s Loire Valley, thousands of miles from the redwood forest, when I smelled the tree. Then — and I apologize for this — I hugged it.

It was like going to base camp at Mount Everest to find that your childhood best friend just happens to be there too.

Every small town has something special — the best 72-ounce steaks, the best garlic-flavored ice cream, a population of feral wallabies — but the something special of Arcata, California, is better than everywhere else’s: giant redwood trees, the tallest living things on Earth. They grow only in the Pacific Northwest, and nowhere else. Or so I thought, until I was hugging a tree in Leonardo da Vinci’s garden. It was the first redwood tree I’d seen in three years, since moving to Europe. It was like going to base camp at Mount Everest to find that your childhood best friend just happens to be there too. It turns out that redwoods can grow outside of California — in France, in the U.K., in Switzerland. There is even a small forest of them, planted by environmental activists this past March, at Cornwall’s Eden Project forest.

The 40 Sequoia sempervirens saplings, which took two years to get OK’d by U.K. agricultural authorities, were cloned from the Fieldbrook stump, a Northern California landmark that’s, well, a stump, 35 feet wide, of a tree more than 3,000 years old when it was logged in the late 19th century. The breeding stock is important, explains David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, the nonprofit responsible for the tree cloning that makes these new forests possible, because you want the truly old trees, the best trees, to create new redwood groves. Redwoods grow better in France than in California these days, Milarch says, because France is cooler and isn’t stricken by drought. One of Milarch’s personal goals is to plant a redwood grove on the beaches of Normandy as a memorial to D-Day’s dead.

“The endgame is to repair what we’ve destroyed,” Milarch says. “Who’s gonna wait 2,000 years for a redwood forest to come back, except us?”

Well, me, I suppose.

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