Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks — Rusty, Richard and Sydney — from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible.

It had taken months and a lot of blood (ouch, my smashed thumb), sweat, (whew-ee, that would be all of us) and a few tears of frustration as we worked to get Great Grandpa Quacker’s 1934 Woody Wagon up and running again, but we did it.

For years, every time we opened the garage, that Woody Wagon stared at us with those big round headlights begging us to take it out, just one more time, on a surfing safari.  Rusty said there were only two choices, quit opening the garage or fix the Woody Wagon.

Rusty got us moving. We changed out the old engine for a new one that runs on bio-fuel. Then we repaired, sanded and polished every inch of that car until it gleamed like new.

Rusty took the wheel and we hit the road ready to re-live Great Grandpa Quacker’s awesome surfing safari adventures.  We tooled up the coast, surfboards hanging out the rear window, styling in our classic Woody Wagon and ready to hit every surf spot from Santa Monica to the Oregon border.

The surfing was spectacular, the scenery dazzling. From Malibu to North Beach it was exactly as Great Grandpa Quacker had described it. We were living his stories. 

When I mapped out the route for our safari, I discovered we would be traveling through one of the most precious natural wonders of the world, the ancient coast redwoods. The coast redwoods are the tallest and possibly the oldest, most massive living things on Earth. 

I read everything I could find on the redwoods. When I learned that 150 years of logging and real estate development had left only 5 percent of the original 2 million acres of coast redwood forest, I knew I could not pass up the opportunity to see the redwoods in person and learn more about them.

Many of the articles I read mentioned Dr. Stephen Sillett, botany professor at Humboldt State University in Arcata who specializes in old growth (ancient) forest canopies. As an expert on these rare, massive giants, I had to talk with him. I took a chance, called and he agreed to meet with me.

Unsure of how my brothers might react and hoping it might help my case, I waited until we were surrounded by the serene beauty of the massive redwoods on U.S. Highway 101’s “Avenue of the Giants”, and then I told them. Richard was immediately agreeable. Rusty, saying the purity of the surfing safari had been compromised, gave me the silent treatment for miles.

I told Richard how Dr. Sillett was the first scientist to enter the upper layer of the spreading, branchy, redwood canopy.  There he found an unseen world, an entire ecosystem, hundreds of feet up in the air.

Rusty kept me on ignore until I began talking about Dr. Sillett’s method of moving about the canopy, called “skywalking.”

Our meeting went well. Rusty, of course, couldn’t wait to hear how Dr. Sillett skywalked in the trees. He told Rusty that first he set a climbing line using a rubber tipped arrow. Then, using a modified, arborist–style safety swing, with ropes, harnesses and pulleys, he ascended into the canopy. The skywalking actually occurred once he was in the canopy by using motion lanyards on a web of climbing robes. Rusty was heartbroken to hear that he would have to become a graduate student at the university to climb with the doctor.

With rapt attention, we listened as Dr. Sillett described the aerial gardens of the redwood canopies. There are colonies of fungi that play an import role in this ecosystem. They help plants absorb nutrients and water. They also help produce the rich soil mats that support earthworms, bugs and barely visible crustaceans, called copepods. Leather ferns dangle from branches and Sitka spruce and western hemlocks sprout from the soil. We all laughed at the picture he created describing chickadees, ruby-crowned kinglets and brown creepers, 300 feet in the sky, gorging themselves on the thickets of red and black huckleberries growing there.

This lush, climate controlled refuge is also home to several varieties of mammals including the California myotis, big brown bat, red tree vole, the northern flying squirrel and the Townsend chipmunk.

We decided our favorite canopy resident was the wandering salamander who lives high above the forest floor in salamander paradise. He sleeps on a comfy, thick soil mat that is also full of tasty insect treats that he enjoys while sitting 250 feet in the air out of reach of ground dwelling predators. Ah, the good life.

When our time was up we vowed to share all we had learned. We thanked Dr. Sillett and with great reluctance got on our way.

The safari was like a nice big chocolate cake — wonderful.  Seeing the giant redwoods and meeting Dr. Sillett put the icing on it.

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com. The Quackers have a new, amazing Web site! Stories, pictures and a blog at www.thequackers.com.   

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