Klootchy Creek, Oregon is one of the last remaining places
in the U.S, where remnants of a primal forest still stand.
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark finally gazed upon what they thought was the Pacific ocean in 1805, they met not only the Clatsop people and a culture that reached back many centuries, but a primal forest that was even older. Crossing over the wide mouth of the Columbia river into what is today coastal Oregon, they encountered a maritime forest primeval dominated by trees whose canopy reached nearly twenty stories in height, sheltering a list of smaller flora and fauna which would soon fill their notebooks of new discoveries.
In an environment moistened by frequent rain and fog, gladdened by the warmth of Pacific ocean currents, and made fertile by an eon of decomposing forest duff, giant redwoods, Douglas fir, red cedar, hemlocks and Sitka spruce dwarfed what undergrowth managed to thrive in their protective shadows; the sound of an iron axe-stroke had not yet broken that green and fecund silence.
It is not known whether or not members of the Lewis and Clark expedition were led by their new Clatsop Indian friends to the area known today by the name of a pioneering family who later settled there, but Klootchy Creek is home to one of the “wonders” of this remarkable forest kingdom they noted in their meticulously-written journals.
About the time King John of England was bowing to the pressure of his lords and peers and signing what would be known as “the Great Charter” – or Magna Carta - a single seed dropped by a neighboring parent-tree was sending down tiny roots into a “nursery” of mossy undergrowth in that fertile and undiscovered corner of northern Oregon. The Sitka spruce whose genesis anchored it to that piece of human history would be a still-gangly infant when Marco Polo set out on his journey to Kublai Khan around 1260 AD, and not much taller when the Black Plague was decimating Europe’s human population.
When, in 1431, her jealous fellow-Frenchmen were preparing to burn Jeanne d’Arc on a stake driven into the ground at Rouen, the young tree was gaining meters in height, and beginning to take sunlight away from nearby competing growth, and it would be marking its 480th birthday as an Italian sailor and navigator named Christofori Columbus was setting sail on a voyage of discovery which would change the world.
When a group of mostly-English religious puritans sailed from Plymouth on a vessel known as a “sweet ship” because of the lingering ambiance of the Madeira wine cargo it usually carried, but remembered by its official name “Mayflower”, the spruce at Klootchy Creek was a gentle giant of middle age, and already over 150 feet in height.
The Sitka spruce puts on altitude faster than girth, but by the time the U.S. Constitution is taking shape during the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, the once princely forest upstart is a portly king with a base diameter of many feet, having weathered nearly six centuries of hurricane force winds and nature’s ever-changing temperament.
In the decades to follow, Beethoven will write his fifth symphony, the “Star Spangled Banner” will fly over Baltimore’s Ft. McHenry, and a tall, spare, bearded president will dedicate a cemetery at a previously little-known crossroads village called Gettysburg. Two world wars will be fought, and world maps will be redrawn several times. And at Klootchy Creek, Oregon a tree which has been oblivious to it all will reach its zenith.
Before a lightning strike and a hurricane brought about its recent demise, the great Sitka spruce at Klootchy Creek had attained a height of 216 feet, a circumference of 56 feet, and an umbrella-like spread of 93 feet at its lofty top. A giant among giants, it became not only the largest tree in the state of Oregon where it is honored as a “Heritage Tree”, but undoubtedly the largest Sitka spruce in America.
Standing in this tree’s shadow today has been, for me, a journey through time.