Sequoia National Park – Among the Giants

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The forest is quiet. Birds swoop between shadows and shafts of sunlight. A trail curves along the forest floor carpeted with pine needles, and our soft footfalls carry us forward on this path.

Our walk began like any other. Car doors slammed, then a few deep breaths of pine filled air, one footstep and another, and another. But as we continued on The Big Trees Trail into this grove of giants, it became like no other walk in the woods I’ve had before.

By volume, Giant Sequoias are the largest single trees in the world. The tallest among them reach heights of a 26-story building, and some base diameters exceed the width of many city streets.

Their footprints would cover your dining room. And the amount of wood that they hold, and continue to grow each year, is incredible – in the record holder General Sherman Tree’s case, it’s equivalent to 15 full grown blue whales.

These wild trees occur naturally only in groves on western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. They thrive in snow, resist fire, and they are some of the oldest things living on our planet. The oldest measured Sequoia was over 3,500 years old.

Standing among these giant trees is like no other experience. I’ve been having trouble writing about it, because I don’t quite know how to describe the feeling of it. But then I found this description of John Steinbeck’s visit to the Redwoods (the other surviving Sequoia species).

“No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time. They have the mystery of ferns that disappeared a million years ago…”
– John Steinbeck Travels With Charley: In Search of America

That’s the thing: it’s not just the size, it’s the age of these trees. It’s knowing that they’ve stood as sentinels on these hills for millennia. Visiting these giants is not just a moment to marvel at the unfathomable height and girth, but to be in the presence of a relic from the ancient world. A relic still growing and reaching into the future, but rooted more deeply than any other living thing I’ve seen.

These old giants stand strong and dignified, watching over this coast as they have for over 2,000 years. I wonder, what have they seen? Wildfires, wars, tides of civilization come and gone, logging, years of drought, and so much change. But they remain.

The trees have presence. They command respect, and quiet. It’s an uncanny power of something so large and so old and so alive.

Boy am I glad that these trees are still alive. 19th century logging saw whole groves clear cut. Thousands of years of growth were demolished in mere days, and the brittle lumber was split into shingles and matchsticks. What a waste. Steinbeck addressed this too, and the reason for which we still have these few left to admire:

“Of course, many of the ancient groves have been lumbered off, but many of the stately monuments remain and will remain, for a good and interesting reason. States and governments could not buy and protect these holy trees. That being so, clubs, organizations, even individuals bought them and dedicated them to the future. I don’t know any similar case. Such is the impact of Sequoias on the human mind.”

So, to those of the past who fought to preserve these trees, thank you. Their worth alive is incalculable. To be able to walk among the giants, through a stunning memory of what the world was like long ago… it’s indescribable.

It may be impossible to capture what it’s like, but anyone who’s been there will know, and it will stay with me always.

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