PETOSKEY — As a young boy in a small village in Slovenia in the 1930s, Petoskey resident Dr. Gustav Uhlich and his friends looked enviously at four very tall trees.
Their lower branches had frozen when the trees were young, and the trees' tall, smooth trunks were impossible to climb.
The trees were redwoods, and they had been planted near the village by the United Kingdom's Queen Victoria in the late 1800s after she recouped in the village's spa, said Uhlich.
Nearly a century later, in 1968, Uhlich was contemplating building a deck onto his house in Petoskey. Now a gastroenterologist, Uhlich had made the move from Eastern Europe to Michigan. His handyman recommended redwood for decking material. It was expensive, but it lasted.
"I said, 'What the hell is redwood?'" Uhlich said. "Then I woke up to the fact that I had grown up with redwoods in a little village in Slovenia."
Now, though Uhlich has moved to a different house, still on a nearly five-acre property that abuts the first house, the deck still stands, and Uhlich has developed a healthy obsession with redwoods — specifically a species called "dawn redwoods."
Uhlich and fellow Petoskey resident Richard Hoffman, owner of Richard Hoffman Landscaping, hope to reintroduce the dawn redwood, Metasequoia Glyptostroboides, to Northern Michigan. The tree was indigenous here and across North America 25 million years ago.
According to the book, "The Man Who Planted Trees" by Jean Giono, the most recent fossil of the tree was millions of years old.
Scientists thought they were extinct.
But in the 1940s, these trees, then called the Type tree, were found in a valley in south central China, according to the book. And now, the two Petoskey men are spreading the word. Hoffman has a loose goal of planting 300 trees in Charlevoix, Emmet and Cheboygan counties. He already plants one at each of his landscaping jobs, and sees the dawn redwood as a healthy replacement for other Michigan trees prone to disease.