When he was younger, Keita Nakayama was hypersensitive to sounds, taste and touch.
As a baby he couldn’t crawl because he didn’t dare touch the ground, carpet or floor with his bare hands, says Keita’s mother, Toshiko Nakayama. He couldn’t pet his dog, Cookie, because she was fluffy, hug his mother when she wore a sweater or push buttons in an elevator.
In an email sent to the Redwood Parks Conservancy, Nakayama said her son’s weight was under one percentile compared to other youngsters his age because he refused to eat most foods. At the park, the rough texture of sand would send Keita into fear and panic.
But at 4 years old, Keita was able to conquer much of his hypersensitivity — thanks to a redwood tree. He couldn’t touch the tree, which stood near Grossman Academy in Palo Alto, his mother said. However, one day, while watching his big brother climb the tree, Kaita approached it.
“All of a sudden he put his ear against the trunk,” Nakayama said. “He was not in a panic, he wasn’t afraid and he was whispering to me: ‘I was listening to the voice of the tree.’”
A few years later, at age 7, after reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about damage the Grove of Titans has endured and efforts to create an elevated walkway around the area, Keita decided he wanted to help. He donated $25, the amount necessary to receive a sticker.
Impressed by his generosity, Rei Grossman, principal of Grossman Academy, a Japanese language school in Palo Alto, agreed to hold a fundraiser for the iconic grove. The 12-student school raised about $500, Nakayama said. The students range from age 5 through high school, she said.
Keita, now 8, received two stickers. On Sunday, he and his 11-year-old brother, Taita, earned their junior ranger badges from park ranger Michelle Covington. Once they took their pledges, the Nakayama family, accompanied by Joanna DiTommaso and Covington’s colleague, Brad Maggetti, set out to meet the Titans.
“They’re really tall,” Taita said of the redwood trees. “You can barely see the top.”
Located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, the Grove of Titans houses some of the largest trees in the world. Stretching more than 300 feet into the air, the trees are more than 23 feet in diameter and contain more than 35,000 cubic feet of wood.
Although Redwood National and State Parks and naturalists kept the location of the grove a secret, word eventually got out. Visitors have blazed their own network of trails off the Mill Creek Trail to access the Grove of Titans, compressing the trees’ root systems and destroying surrounding vegetation, Brett Silver, acting state parks superintendent for the redwood coast sector, told the Triplicate in March 2017. People standing on the trees for photos can also cause injury, Silver said.
The situation prompted park officials to rethink their approach to protecting the Grove of Titans. They installed interpretive signs, warning visitors of the harm they can do to the trees by leaving the trail.
The Redwood Parks Conservancy — Redwood National and State Parks’ nonprofit partner — set out to raise about $1.5 million for an elevated trail system into the grove itself.
Since 2017, the story has spread, starting with the Statesman Journal in February 2017, the Grove of Titans has been featured in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and on CBS News, said DiTommaso, the conservancy’s development director.
The Redwood Parks Conservancy, so far, has raised $50,000, which is “far short of what we thought would bring in,” DiTommaso said.
“We’re still working on getting our name out there,” she said. “We don’t have any official announcements yet, but we’re working on some official partnerships to really bring in a lot of money fast. Possibly we’ll have it funded by next year the way things are looking. But we’re just speculating right now.”
DiTommaso, said the conservancy realized raising $1.5 million was a tall order.
On Sunday, DiTommaso said she and Maggetti would not only show the Nakayamas the grove, but also give them an idea where the elevated platform would go. She said when the conservancy initially received the email from Toshiko Nakayama, they were so moved, they put together care packages, including stickers and junior ranger badges for the two boys and pamphlets in Japanese for their classmates.
DiTommaso said she also sent Keita a handful of redwood cones. She said she was told that Keita slept with the tiny seeds under his pillow.
At his school’s fundraiser, Keita and Taita made the banners and prepared a speech and presentation, Toshiko Nakayama said. They even created a song to the tune of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” about redwoods.
“He worked so hard to raise money for the redwood trees that he loves,” Nakayama said of Keita.
For more information about the Grove of Titans, visit https://redwoodparksconservancy.org/protect-grove-titans.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .