• Alan Peterson

A Coat of White in the Redwoods

Coastal redwoods and snow are rarely seen together, simply because coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirons) do not thrive in freezing temperatures. Their shallow root systems are vulnerable to hard freezes, and circulating fluids to the top of a 300+ foot behemoth is an onerous task in mild conditions. It's a tree that has adapted to live in California's temperate fog-bathed hills and valleys, and that's what made the forest such an extraordinary sight on the morning of February 10th.

For the first time since I moved to Humboldt County in 2010, I woke up to find a healthy coat of snow on my car at my McKinleyville home. I grabbed my camera, boots and jacket, then made a beeline for the redwood parks, unsure of what I would find. My hopes of seeing snow-blanketed trees sank as I made my way past Humboldt County's lagoons, where only the occasional patch of frost survived through the night, but as soon as Highway 101 veered away from the coast, the winter wonderland I was hoping for began to take shape. A slush-smeared Newton B. Drury Parkway opened up to the iconic elk prairie, dusted in white.

As the sun rose over the treetops, the snow began to evaporate into dense clouds of slowly-rising mist. Black-tailed deer fed on whatever exposed vegetation they could find while a pair of Roosevelt elk bulls made a brief appearance at the edge of the meadow. With the remainder of the parkway closed for winter conditions, the only way to get deeper into the forest was on foot.

The trail north passed by a lone doe, quietly grazing in the undergrowth. Beneath the taller redwoods, the melting snow fell as a steady drizzle from the branches. Red alders and bigleaf maples maintained a crust of the previous night's snow, ice and hail throughout the morning in the shade of the taller evergreens. Prairie Creek flowed past banks of white-flecked ferns and blackberries.

The cold weather didn't seem to bother the forest's birds. The occasional Pacific Wren or Varied Thrush could be seen energetically pecking around under the bushes.

By late morning, the drizzle of melting snow from treetops had become a heavy downpour. Finding a place where I could keep the front of my lens clear of falling water and slush became difficult.

I made my exit from the forest, stopping one last time to capture a scene of Prairie Creek. Most of the snow on the coast took less than a day to melt, and the front yards in McKinleyville quickly returned to their regular color. The increasingly erratic weather patterns we're experiencing in California make it difficult to guess when or if a storm like this will happen again, but I've shared this gallery in case it remains as rare as it has in the past.

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