‘Stretch to the Sun’
Marquette author writes book on coastal redwood
MARQUETTE — Where were you 1,200 years ago? In fact, how many living organisms on Earth can be asked that question?
The story of a little coast redwood that grew to be more than 380 feet tall today is the centerpiece of a new book by Marquette resident Carrie Pearson, which is entitled “Stretch to the Sun: From a Tiny Sprout to the Tallest Tree on Earth.”
Pearson said “tall-tree” researchers found the tree in 2006. At about 1,200 years old and still growing, it’s considered the tallest tree on Earth.
In 2013, Pearson won a Work of Outstanding Progress grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers to pursue a children’s book about coast redwoods. As part of the research grant, she toured Redwood National and State Parks in California with James Wheeler, a veteran park ranger/interpreter of over 30 years.
She acknowledged having an interest in redwoods because of her mom, Bonnie Hill, who asked her daughter if she knew what was going on at the top of the redwood trees.
“She had seen a National Geographic special, and I didn’t,” Pearson said. “It was about how they were finding the tallest trees in the world and getting up in them and finding out that there was an ecosystem there we knew nothing about.”
A redwood is not your typical tree, at least size- and age-wise.
According to the National Park Service, fossil records have shown that relatives of present-day coast redwoods thrived in the Jurassic Era 160 million years ago, but they continue to thrive in the right environment.
California’s North Coast provides the only such environment in the world since a combination of longitude, climate and elevation limits the redwoods’ range to a few hundred coastal miles. Also, the cool, moist air created by the Pacific Ocean keeps the trees continually damp, even during summer droughts.
Although she wrote about the tall tree, Pearson hasn’t viewed it.
“They keep it secret,” she said. “They’re trying to protect it, so very few people have actually seen it.”
Redwoods are unique in at least one ecological way.
“People have said that it’s like the coral reef in the sky,” Pearson said. “It’s abundantly full of things that we wouldn’t expect, like whole other huge trees.”
As can be seen in “Stretch to the Sun,” the branches will form a platform, and dirt ends up on the platform.
“When birds come by, they drop things in it, so there are salamanders,” Pearson said. “There are blueberry bushes. There are some things that we see on the ground, but it’s all up there, and they interconnect and they form this canopy.”
It’s easy to see why the redwood ecosystem fascinates her.
“It’s all up there,” Pearson said. “We have no knowledge of it because it’s so high.”
Also, redwood trees contribute to people’s health, she said.
“They take in all that carbon dioxide and transfer it to air we can breathe,” she said.
Of course, the sheer magnitude of their size and their age is another source of awe for her.
Having such an interesting subject allowed for intricate and beautiful art, with Susan Swan of Texas the illustrator.
For example, a redwood is a conifer, and Swan’s art depicts its needles in detail.
As is typical in children’s publishing, an illustrator is found for the author, although in this case, Pearson suggested Swan because she loved her work.
“I wanted something that felt three-dimensional,” Pearson said. “I think she captured that.”
“Stretch to the Sun” has a gatefold, which is similar to a centerfold.
The book’s scene lends itself well to a gatefold, depicting a tall redwood with researchers interspersed in its high branches.
Speaking of research, Pearson had to conduct her own for the book.
“First, I start with secondary research and figure out what questions I would have that I don’t have answers to, and then I start reaching out to the experts,” Pearson said.
Redwoods probably are worth a lot of research; Pearson noted that 96 percent of them are gone because of practices like logging.
As the book reads in part: “Scientists study this once-tiny sprout that survived and grew to be the tallest of the tall.”
Pearson is no newcomer to children’s writing, as she is the author of “A Warm Winter Tail” and “A Cool Summer Tail.”
What is desired in books for children is something that feels fresh but is easy to read, with picture books using as few words as possible, she said.
“It is a challenge,” said Pearson, who used narrative nonfiction in her book.
She also tried to incorporate onomatopoeia, which involves words that are a vocal imitation of their associated sounds.
Pearson said some people worried that latest book, before it was published, was “too quiet,” while others were concerned about something happening to the tree.
“Would there still be a story there?” Pearson asked.
She acknowledged the tree is in an area that can’t be logged, but still is exposed to the elements.
“We know it has scars from at least one fire,” Pearson said. “There’s been drought, so yes, it’s a very strong tree but it’s also tall, and redwoods don’t have a very big root structure, surprisingly, for how tall they are.”
Regardless of the tree’s future, young readers of her book should learn about redwoods through her prose and Swan’s art.
“Stretch to the Sun” will launch Oct. 9, is published by Charlesbridge Publishing and will available at Snowbound Books in Marquette and on online retailers like Amazon. For more information, visit carriepearsonbooks.com.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.