Monday, April 14, 2008

Take a hair-raising ride to wondrous (Day 1 of Sequoia Holiday)

The Sentinel -- an average giant

When we set off earlier this week for the Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks we had no idea “where” these parks were. We knew only what the map told us: that they lay several hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles, but not that these parks are some 7,000 feet high in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and are reached by several hundred hair-raising S turns with precipitous drops on one side or the other. “Take a look at that view,” my hubby Bill said and I replied “Yes. Yes,” while clutching the passenger seat in a white-knuckled death grip and mentally reminding myself to “Breathe.”

Breathing was definitely easier when we were on the inside of the General’s Highway and when Bill wasn’t noting the magnificent view while racing past them! Actually, Bill drives mountain roads with skill, acquired by years of negotiating similar roads in the Colorado Rockies. Contrarily I have not been so trained or inured. And I have a terror of heights, notwithstanding that I happened to love doing the ropes course on an Outward Bound close to my 60th birthday.

The sights that greeted us when we met our first giant Sequoias, however, made potential heart-failure worthwhile. We were in awe! I felt something akin to spiritual ecstasy in the presence of these towering forest divinities with their massive cinnamon-colored trunks. We stopped to take photos of the ones we met along the way, having no idea that they were of “average” proportion with trunk diameter of only 20-30 feet. No, ahead of us, awaited the General Grant with its 40 foot diameter, and the largest tree in the world by volume, The General Sherman.

When reading about the giant Sequoias I'd somehow pictured an entire forest filled with only these massive trees. I did not realize that they exist within a varied environment with Sugar Pines, Red Firs, Western Azaleas, Sierra Laurel and the like. Nor did I realize that the cones of these huge beings were as small as chicken eggs. Theirs were not the 13-18 inch long cones of the Sugar Pines, or even the 6-8 inch cones of the Western White Pine.

The General Sherman (note the fence asking visitors to stay on the other side as the roots of these giants are vulnerable)

Standing in silence under these greatest of all Sierra trees -- many of which average 2,000 or more years in age (the oldest being estimated at 3,200 years), I pondered the historical events that had taken place while they were growing: the volcanic eruption devastating the island of Thera in Greece, the rule of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti, the start of the Iron Age, the first Olympic Games, the writing of the Hebrew Bible, the wisdom of Buddha, the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth and so on.

This man is on the wrong side of the fence. Maybe he can't read.

I felt as if I were standing in the presence sages who, if asked, could predict the future of life on this planet based on what they’d witnessed as humankind progressed from the use of iron tools to the transmission of information through the Ethernet, and nature has been simultaneously altered by our "advancement," as attested to by San Joaquin Valley smog through which we drove on our way into the Sierra's . . . smog that drifts perniciously upward into the highlands where these Sequoias grow.

The challenge that confronts us visitors to view and honor these amazing trees is that even our visit contributes to that smog. That despite our efforts to live in as green a manner as we can, the fact that we eat and heat and drive and use cell phones, carries an invisible carbon footprint.
Now that's a hair-raising thought.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune named Beryl as a "Best of 2006 Minnesota Authors." Her book The Scent of God was a “Notable” Book Sense selection for April 2006.