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Mitchell Zucker © 2017

Second place winner California State Parks and Mendocino Study Club, Pygmy Forest Story Contest, Sept. 10, 2016. The rules called for the story to begin: “Once Upon a Time in the Pygmy Forest.”


Once Upon a Time in the Pygmy Forest


Once upon a time in the Pygmy Forest, the youngest tree said to the oldest tree:  “Great grandmother Cypress, I am only the size of a broken Pine twig and I grow so slowly, and you are more than a hundred years old but only as tall as a spindly shrub, and our Pygmy Forest family looks so small and thin and scraggly.  Yet we are surrounded by trees as tall as mountains and so beautiful to look at; and they can talk to the Ocean and play with the wind and tickle the clouds, and the birds and animals live among them and play with them and they all seem so happy.  Why is our Pygmy Forest family so small and why can’t we even see the Ocean?  And how is it that nobody visits us?  I want so much to be tall and beautiful when I grow up.”

Great Grandmother Pygmy Cypress nodded her bent branches and shook her old leaves into a smile and replied:  “Listen to my story, dear Baby Pine and your questions will be answered.  Long ago there was no Pygmy Forest.  Right here where we are standing was once the bottom of the Ocean.  In those early days there was nothing but giant trees and Ocean.  There were no berries, no flowers, no bushes, no grasses.  And every winter, Ocean sent water to Sky as clouds that drifted over the forest and it rained down and watered the trees.  And their numbers grew, until there were so many trees and they were so crowded together that they began pushing and arguing with each other about who was the best tree.

“I’m the biggest so I must be the best,” cried the giant Redwood.  “But I’m the straightest,” cried the stately Fir.  “And I’m the most beautiful,” cried the shapely Hemlock.  “And I’m the strongest,” cried the sturdy Spruce, “And I’m the nuttiest” cried the Tan Oak, “and I smell like delicious herbs,” cried the Bay Laurel; and on and on they argued who was the best tree.  They just could not be quiet.  Their trunks and branches banged, and pushed, and creaked, and crashed, and cracked, and screeched, and shoved, and moaned, and groaned, while their roots grew together in bunches and tangles and swirls making it impossible to walk through the forest.  This continued for thousands of years until the forest was so crowded with broken branches and banging trees and so noisy that the birds and animals all went away.

“This is not the way it should be,” sighed Ocean.  “Trees should grow quietly and peacefully and make room for young trees to grow and for everyone to enjoy.  But what can I do to change things?”  And Ocean decided to ask Earth what could be done. One day it called to Earth who was at home beneath the forest floor and also under the Ocean and explained the problem.

“I’m so happy you called,” said Earth.  “I want to talk with you about the very same problem.  The trees make so much noise with their thumping and drumming and crashing and pushing that I cannot get any rest.  We should do something.”  
So, then and there Earth and Ocean made a plan to change things.  Since trees cannot move from one place to another because of their roots, Earth and Ocean decided to work together and move the land so each tree family and groups of tree families would have their own places to grow and would stop their quarreling.  They decided to make a gigantic staircase with steps, called terraces, starting at the Ocean and going inland and each terrace would contain trees that would grow in their own terrace.  That way there would be no need to argue since they would each have their own home.  Five terrace steps, they decided, should be enough to make the trees happy.

So Earth took a deep breath and pushed the rocks that were under the Ocean until they rose up out of the water and formed the first terrace filled with earth from the Ocean bottom.  As the Earth rose up, Ocean used its strong waves, and with the help of strong stormy winds, carved the rock so it became a gigantic step called a headland. People who visit the Ocean today can see where crashing waves and strong winds and heavy rains are carving a new headland. It will be ready to become a new terrace in about another hundred thousand years and by then Earth will have pushed it up to become another step.  Altogether, they worked for half a million years and carved a staircase with five steps, starting at the Ocean and moving up and inland for around three-and-a-half miles.  And while Earth was busy pushing up the rock, Ocean, with help from the wind, filled in each terrace with Ocean floor material and sand so the trees could grow.  Today people call the staircase the Ecological Staircase and it is one of the only places in the country that a person can walk around and clearly see the five terraces and the trees that grow there.”

But Baby Pine was confused and asked “How does it work to keep the tall trees behaving? Can’t they just fill up the steps and keep growing just like before?”

“Now that’s a very good question,” said Great Grandmother Cypress.  “The answer begins during the winter rains. Since the terraces were so flat when they were the bottom of the Ocean, when they rose up the winter rains had no place to run off. They just collected on the flat terraces in puddles sitting there and very slowly draining straight down under the ground, taking all the tree growing material in the soil with them, and where it all collected underground it glued together into a kind of very strong cement that big tree roots cannot grow through. This is called hard pan and it caused the Pygmy Forest to be formed on the surface of the third and fourth and fifth terraces where the hardpan is closest to the surface.  Puddles that are left on the surface are more acid than the strongest vinegar people can buy in the store.  Yet somehow or other, that people do not understand, the Pygmy Forest Trees, can grow there and have grown into a magical garden crowded with tiny trees and bushes that only grow here.  You, dear Baby Pygmy Pine are a magical tree.

“Today more and more people are visiting the Pygmy Forest to study how it is possible to grow anything in such bad soil.  And children are discovering the magical Pygmy trees.  Of course since these Pygmy Trees are not much taller than people, and sometime not much taller than very young children, people can sometimes get lost there.  The best way to never get lost in the Pygmy Forest is to tie little ribbons to trees so people can find their way by following the ribbons.  In some places they have built boardwalks so it is easy to see the Pygmy Forest and not get lost.

“Just remember, dear Baby Pigmy Pine you are one of the most special trees in the entire world. That you are so small only makes you even more precious. Look carefully and you will see that the big trees growing around you love you and protect you from storms and winds.”

And young Baby Pygmy Pine smiled and thanked Great Grandmother Cypress for making it so happy.


Think in the Morning comment:

As a follow up, consider this BLOG:  Two State Parks and a Red Tailed Hawk