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Bob tree

Quite the spread.


National Geographic magazine is famous for its often remarkable high-quality photos. I recently picked up an old issue that was lying around the house, and found a story on giant redwood trees. It featured a pullout photo that folds out, and keeps on folding out, until it’s at least 18 inches long.

And there, filling the entire surface of the page, was a phallic leviathan: a single full-length photo of the second largest giant sequoia tree on earth. At 247 feet high and 27 feet in diameter, it’s one of the most massive living things on the planet. It has two billion leaves. That number alone is mind-numbing – if you counted out one number every single second for twenty-four hours every day, you would be counting for the next 60 years before you reached 2 billion.

This tree is estimated to be 3,200 years old, which means when it was a sapling, humans were just discovering how to use iron to make cutting tools and weapons. Rome, much less the Roman Empire, wouldn’t emerge for another 500 years. But there was the President (its nickname from 90 years ago), quietly sprouting and growing taller and stronger in a snowy forest that, millennia later, would be called Northern California.

It’s so huge you can barely discern the intrepid scientists, and their climbing gear suspended among the upper branches. Wearing bright red and yellow parkas, they resemble apples and peaches nestled in the foliage.

As I stood there in my dining room admiring the centerfold, I felt a sense of displaced déjà vu. When I was a teenager (and beyond), centerfolds in magazines like Playboy and Penthouse featured oversized photos of oversexed women with their limbs splayed in provocative poses. Now I’m more impressed by a giant tree. How life has changed.