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In search of tall trees

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  January 22, 2013 09:19 PM

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You would think that these kinds of discoveries had closed off years ago. But no. Here, from the publication Bay Nature, is the story of a teenager who spent this past summer finding some of the tallest trees in North America.

His name is Zane Moore. After graduating from high school in the spring he set off for the coastal redwoods, south of San Francisco. In a summer’s worth of exploring he tallied an impressive list of records:

Before Zane Moore, there was only one known redwood tree south of San Francisco that reached 300 feet tall. He’s added six more to the list, along with 9 redwoods reaching 290 feet. Oh, and if that’s not impressive enough, he’s also discovered the tallest known California sycamore, the tallest bay laurel, the tallest Pacific madrone, and the tallest tan oak.

Moore’s primary tool in the effort was a $400 laser range finder, donated to him by legendary tree trekker Michael Taylor. In 2006 Taylor discovered the world’s tallest tree—a 379.1-foot redwood dubbed Hyperion. The location of Hyperion is undisclosed, to keep away climbing enthusiasts and the sightseeing hordes. But Moore found it anyway, tucked among its fellow old giants on the 132,000 acres of Redwood National Park.

“If he could find Hyperion without my assistance, I knew this guy had an unusually keen sense about trees,” Taylor told Bay Nature, as a way of explaining why he decided to support Moore’s summer search. “He reminded me of myself when I was young — the passion part of it.”

Moore’s passion is evident in this YouTube video, taken a couple years ago. It’s him with his dad, at the base of the Lost Monarch, the tallest living coast redwood. He evinces just the right amount of naïve, double-rainbow enthusiasm as he circles the tree (“Oh my gosh, this thing is huge”). But for the most part, Moore is all business, narrating details about the tree (“They found this redwood May 11, 1998…”) and explaining that estimates of the tree’s diameter differ.

In the annals of exploration, it’s hard to know how to situate tree discoveries. Moore’s quest immediately called to mind, for me, Maurice Herzog’s history-making discovery and ascent of Annapurna in the Himalayas in 1950; and, more generally, thoughts of 8,000-meter peaks and 300-foot trees inspire a similar kind of reverence. At the same time, there’s something more quixotic about tall trees—a quality that situates them alongside the biggest pumpkin at the state fair as much as the world's true physical marvels.

Regardless, it’s nice to read about Zane Moore and know that some records remain to be claimed-and that in a GPS’d, sat-mapped world, some of nature’s greatest achievements remain hidden in plain sight.

Image of Redwoods courtesy of the National Park Service

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.

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