Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Very big trees

I played hooky Monday and Tuesday and spent a night camping at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, and did some hiking in the general vicinity. My main objective was actually to see the spring wildflowers in the foothills... in particular the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern (!), a Bureau of Land Management property near Chinese Camp, CA. More about that in the next post. Meanwhile, some highlights from Big Trees...

Calaveras Big Trees SP preserves a couple of fine stands of giant sequoia. After I arrived in the late afternoon I took the longer hike to the more pristine South Grove, home to the park's largest sequoias. I had the grove entirely to myself. Ditto for my early morning stroll through the more accessible North Grove, adjacent to the park's headquarters and visitors center. In other words: If you have some desire to experience these extraordinary places in complete solitude, go on a weekday off season. I would not characterize myself as a spiritual person, but wonderment is something I am capable of, and you get it here.

Calaveras was privately owned for a period, and the dudes who ran the operation committed some "atrocities." They felled one of the largest specimens and made the resulting log into a bar and bowling alley. When you see the stump today there is some wonderment at how much trouble they went to in the mid 1800s to cut down such a behemoth. Essentially they attacked the thing with an auger, repeatedly drilling holes until they had hollowed out a slice, and it toppled.

Another giant(ess), the Mother of the Forest, some 2500+ years old, was stripped of its bark, which killed the tree in short order. The corpse is still standing. The bark was shipped around to various exhibitions, where it was reassembled to provide onlookers some idea of the enormity of these trees. Such pillaging is unimaginable to us now, but I have mixed feelings. Humans are collectively, for better or worse, the planet's stewards, and they can have no desire to steward what they cannot imagine or conceive. Aside from pure preservation from extinction, this is our best defense of zoos. If a traveling exhibition inspired people to value these trees and their habitat, well, perhaps the Mother died not in vain.

I have never seen a photo of a sequoia that does justice to the experience of the mammoth ancient thing in person, so I'll stick to the sideshow. Late afternoon and early morning brought slanting light, which illuminated the blossoming and leafing dogwoods against the dark hulks of the big trees. The bugs were out (photo 3), and with them the birds.

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