Today’s entry opens up a still somewhat newish series for the blog, inspired by a book called The Bucket List: 1,000 Adventures Big & Small. I know I’ll probably never make it to most of these locales, but I love to learn about them anyway. I like places, love to see them on maps and discover what they are about.
So this series doesn’t necessarily represent my bucket list, per se, hence the addition to its name as mapping out across the world, settings worth learning even a little about. One such exploration years ago brought me to this: When Russians are preparing to travel, they sit down for a few minutes in one spot. For contemplation, perhaps, prayer, maybe a little decompression before their travel whirlwind. I also like to do this: reflect on life for just a few minutes and think about where I am heading, and where might any bit of knowledge carry me.
With that said, let us embark.
Locale: Giant Sequoia National Monument, southern Sierra Nevada (mountain range), eastern central California
Longitude: 118.81790 W*
Time of Year: All year*, though roads are subject to snow closures in winter months, per the Giant Sequoia National Monument page of the USDA Forest Service website. Consult park pages for current visitation schedules and protocols.
About the Destination: Located in the Sierra Nevada, the Sequoia National Forest includes about half of the giant sequoia groves currently existing; each contains anywhere from one to tens of thousands of the trees. The giant sequoia is the largest tree in the world and grows naturally only in the western band of its mountain range home, at an elevation of 4,000-8,000 feet. To clarify, these are those trees, gigantic in diameter as well as height, you see pictures of with tiny spots at the bottom that you realize are people acting as size marker. For a few breathtaking images, click here, here and here.
American naturalist, co-founder of the Sierra Club and father of the national park, John Muir, wrote that giant sequoia groves are “not like places, they are like haunts.” The sequoia of which he was so fond and referred to as “Big Trees” are so massive and captivating to gaze upon, even in mere images, that they are almost otherworldly. It is easy to imagine why he would characterize the groves as haunts, given the nature of forests as humans attribute to them, and their seeming power over our perceptions and emotions. This would especially be true when considering the age-old collective memory of the dark forest.
True Story: I have never been to California in my life. OK, so I once passed through LAX on the way home on an international. I only recall passing through customs and then racing down a long, glass hallway to make my connecting flight, whose scheduled departure was 30 minutes after my arrival. I don’t recall the outcome for sure, but I think I actually might have made it.
Forests where I’m from are plenty and lovely to walk through. I have rarely, however, been in a dark forest because winter, when our darkness abounds, is not conducive to tramping through woodland, especially if parts of it are rotting or unstable. I would do it with a buddy, but very few (read: nobody) wish to engage in a cold thicket of trees with the moon shining down at us. A visit to Sequoia takes care of that sort of thing because lots of others are there and the trees are so stunningly massive it seems it would be difficult not to gawp. The trails are maintained especially for this endeavor, and in some spots are accessible by car.
My midnight musings: Meandering through a forest has the completely opposite vibe of a steel-and-glass airport: within it one walks slowly, taking in the sights and smelling the freshness. For me personally, there is always a certain amount of adrenaline in the mix because I don’t tend to be relaxed around wild animals if I am walking the same ground as them. That level of fear is there, but so too a sense of magical wonder, and the forest adds to this with its feel of an ancient presence. In the surrounding trees rest the imprint of events that occurred long before, and I can almost feel strains of the atmosphere hovering, of when previous peoples or the gods they worshipped populated the very area in which my feet are planted.
*per information given within The Bucket List: 1,000 Adventures Big & Small
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