After several canceled vacations, the mermaid and I finally got away and tried to put the pandemic behind us. Our destination: the tall trees of California, Pacific Redwoods, and Sequoias. These trees are among the oldest living things on earth with some Sequoias clocking in at almost 2,200 years old. But first we had to get there, and that meant flying to California.
The mermaid, although quite adapted to the Atlantic Ocean, has had a lifelong fear of California and the possibility of earthquakes. But with so much happening around us, she agreed to cast her fears aside and visit the “left-coast.”
Our starting point was San Francisco, a beautiful city that has been under siege the last two years with an overabundance of homeless. When we arrived, after a gentle flight, we were told to stay away from certain areas, and we did.
Since I had been to the city several times many years ago, I acted as the tour guide. A stroll through Chinatown into North Beach showed the signs that covid had wrecked small businesses, but as we made our way toward the Wharf, we saw no signs of real decay in the city. Apparently even San Franciscans were fed-up with the way things were going and recalled the District Attorney and fired several members of the Board of Education. So far, it appears to be working. We booked a tour, so for the rest of the way we would follow their lead, and the first stop was John Muir Woods just behind the beautiful town of Sausalito. These woods are populated by California Pacific Redwoods and some reach as tall as 300 feet. We walked through the misted canopy of giants, paying homage to their size, age, beauty, and wisdom.
From San Francisco, we headed south to the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. I am always amazed that travelers back in the day, came to California on wagon trains through the Rocky Mountains, across deserts only to find the Sierra Nevada’s as one last trial to get over before hitting the Pacific.
We were told that John Muir would walk from San Francisco to this area back in the late 1800s before roads, cars, and buses. It took us five hours by bus to get there. I can only imagine what his trip was like. Our first destination was Sequoia National Park, home to the ancient Sequoia trees, some over 2,200 years old. These trees, not as tall as the Redwoods, have very wide trunks and keep expanding as the years go by.
This park is so remote that there was no cell coverage at all. Bears roam the park freely, and we did see one while we strolled along. The bear couldn’t have cared less about us, and frankly I couldn’t blame him. The trees were the thing for us. These magnificent beings start off small and take about 25 years to reach an average height, but from there really add girth and height. There are only a few places where these trees grow and recently, they have been threatened with fire. Although they are somewhat fire-resistant, even these ancient warriors can succumb to the ravages of nature.
The ranger providing our tour explained to us that for over 100 years, the rangers (including the famed Buffalo Soldiers) would try to suppress fires in the park to save the trees. New science has provided some new insights as to how “prescribed burns” can save these forests by allowing new growth to flourish. The theory is that by clearing the forest floor, seeds can take root, and by allowing sunlight to break-through, life among the giants can flourish. I thought about how true that was in life too.
Our final destination was Yosemite National Park. While this park is devoid of Redwoods and Sequoias, it is heavily populated by Incense Pines and Oaks. But its real attractions are the Falls, El Capitan, and Half-Dome. These other-worldly natural wonders were saved for our generation by John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt who knew that not everything should be developed into a theme-park. When standing in Yosemite Valley, you feel the sense of awe, wonder and mystery that is life. The vast scale of these giant natural wonders gives your perspective and rearranges your molecules in ways that are subtle and impactful.
While we were away, we received the sad news that a friend and neighbor had passed after a long struggle with an illness. Still a young man, this individual was like the giants we had walked among out west. He stood tall, was always welcoming, had a broad smile and laugh that offset how big and strong he was. While his time on this earth was much shorter than the giant trees, his impact upon us was no less. Godspeed Ray.
By Lou Pastina