Carpe Diem (Latin: Seize the day, phrase used by the Roman poet Horace to express the idea that one should enjoy life while one can.)
A few years ago I read the book “The Wild Trees,” by Richard Preston. In it, he tells the almost unbelievable story of Steve Sillett (and a few other botanist’s) exploration of the largest and tallest trees in the world. These are the coast Redwoods of Northern California. They explored and measured the height of these trees by climbing them. Many memories and emotions washed past as I read this book. I was repeatedly amazed that these young explorers did not think “there is nothing new to learn,”did not believe that there was no new place to explore. They went where others refused to go. They invented new ways to climb these massive trees with ropes. On May 11, 1998 Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor pushed, crawled and fell through a part of the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, in search of large redwood trees, or Titans, as they called them.
As it happens, I grew up in this area of northern California, between Crescent City and the Oregon border. Every summer of my childhood was spent in these woods, floating down the Smith River, panning for gold in the streams, picnicking at Stout Grove, and just marveling at the grandeur and beauty of this ancient redwood forest. I have a distinct memory of asking my dad, as we were driving north on Hwy 199, if we could explore out there, just walk out through the woods and see what we might find. This must have been the mid 1960s. He assured me that there was too much brush, and too many fallen trees that would prevent any exploration off-road. Though I was always haunted by the thought of that mysterious wilderness, I never tried to explore it. Thirty something years later, Sillett and Taylor did exactly that, and discovered the “Grove of the Titans.” This grove of redwoods has been called “collectively, the largest redwood trees on Earth.” One of those trees, now named “Lost Monarch,” was found to be (at the time of discovery) “the largest living redwood in the world.” The enormous Stout tree, where I picnicked as a kid, is now known to not be in the top 50 largest trees within Jedediah Smith park. The exact location of the Grove of the Titans remains a closely guarded secret to this day.
About the time I was a kid wandering the Redwood forests, John Lennon wrote, in the lyrics of his song “Beautiful Boy,” “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” As it happens, our lives turn out to be what we choose to do day by day, the thoughts and actions which we decide to pour into each thing we do.
I know it is good to have plans for the future, to organize in one’s mind the goals and dreams of tomorrow. But maybe it is also important to recognize the moment we occupy right now, to see the awesome opportunity in front of us, and decide to take advantage of it. For those of us that have most of our lives behind us, this may be even more important.
On March 4, my friend and mentor, Sherm Sallee died. He was one of the giants among us. He showed us the way to manage a family forest. He taught us to love all the parts of the natural world, all the plants and animals that made it up. He taught me to think carefully and critically about what I was seeing, to always be learning, and always caring for others. He showed me how to cut firewood efficiently and neatly. He helped me be confident in my writing.
During this past year, I knew his health was failing and planned several times to spend a day with him, but never did it. I did not act on those thoughts, and am sorry for that. We don’t always get it right. But as Sherm showed us many times, maybe, just once in a while, we can recognize that we stand on the brink of something important, of a decision that can change to world for the better, and we can seize the day.