Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate

ESL students findcommon groundin nearby grove

Words like "quiet," "old," or "tall," are defined differently in a redwood forest.

Every year, many of thousands of visitors travel great distances to ponder the unknown heights, the unthinkable age of Del Norte's trees, particularly those right off Walker Road.

Last Saturday a rare group of entirely local residents toured Simpson-Reed Grove together, field-trippers from an English as Second Language class offered for free through College of the Redwoods' Community Education Program.

Several students brought their families along - children and grandchildren born in Del Norte, with parents and grandparents who speak Vietnamese; Korean; Spanish; English too.

Usually the adult ESL students meet in a computer lab on the CR campus, their voices crackling through microphones and rattling off plastic. But out on the trail, the group was hushed, expressing wonder in more universal terms: wide eyes and open mouths.

The tour's ranger guide, Nate St. Amand, did most of the talking. He explained how fallen giants allow the forest to regenerate, how he probably wouldn't live long enough to see the mammoth trunk behind him come down to nutrient-rich dust, supporting the next generation of trees.

"I'm going to be here in 50 years to see that turn into soil," chimed in Emilio Marquez, a precocious 9-year-old who looked, poked, asked and answered lots of questions throughout the tour.

His mother, Guille Marquez, started taking ESL classes with instructor Joan Miles about four years back. She followed family to Crescent City 17 years ago.

"I want to learn more English because I have three kids and I want to communicate with them," she said, joking that her curly brown hair will be gray or gone by the end of summer vacation. (Emilio almost learned the hard way that licorice fern has a misleading name.)

Twelve-year-old Perla Marquez cringed and walked away as her mother recounted a story. What for most people would have been a simple misunderstanding with a Safeway cashier, redefined frustration for Guille, leading the Mexico native to say, "No more," and start attending language classes.

Another student, Ly Rogers, was a meticulously put-together woman, big tinted glasses over her twinkling eyes. She came here from Vietnam in 1977, but Saturday was her first time to turn down Walker Road and actually get out of the car. She brought her grown granddaughter along for the field trip, a native Del Norter who's back in town from her home in Marin County to attend an eight-week nursing program.

Hyesun Kim was this ESL class' first learner. She and her son moved to Crescent City from Korea six years ago, when neither one spoke English at all, save the alphabet. Now, she's shyly fluent and he's an 18-year-old sophomore at UC Davis, attending on a scholarship.

John Tran recently moved to Crescent City for a temporary job at Pelican Bay State Prison. Born in Vietnam, he's extremely educated and has lived in California for about 20 years. But he's encountered difficulties getting credentialed through American universities due to language issues.

"On the street nobody corrects you. I keep doing things wrong for years," he said.

Miles has been teaching ESL to adults for years. She's pretty much the only option for grown-ups seeking this kind of instruction in Del Norte, she said.

"My curriculum is pretty individualized. I ask students to bring to class whatever they need help with, especially any writing they've done," she said.

On the field trip, Miles provided all the students with typed-up copies of the interpretive signs posted along the looping trail, one of which Emilio expertly articulated for the class.

Ranger Nate further explained the way all the trees depend on each other for continued existence. While redwoods usually get top billing, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock also make this ancient ecosystem what it is, and how it's been, for millennia.

"The way redwoods stay up is they get tangled with all the other tree roots. And they fall over all the time. It's part of their life," he said. "If you could sit here for 1,000 years you would see that this family of tree is moving out in circles."

The ESL class and its families lingered for just over an hour.

For more information about free ESL classes in Crescent City call Joan Miles at 464-2729 or email esl.joanmiles@yahoo.com.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at ecureton@triplicate.com.