Saturday, July 1, 2006

The California Diaries - Day 1: Into The Woods

Let us cast aside the smog of southern California for the mountain majesty up north in the Sequoia National Forest.

Dip your toes into the Kaweah River and the water is perfect. I could still feel it rushing by my toes hours later.

And then you start seeing the enormous trees as you drive into the Giant Forest. They’ve been here ten times longer than you have. They will be here long after you’re gone. I marvel at the sheer size and height, the deep reds. Fire, insects, drought, broken branches don’t harm these beings. They keep growing, invincible to adversity, almost thriving on it.

We roll on to the path leading to the General Sherman tree. The air is cool and calm. A few steps down the newly renovated walkway, the pine scent hits me. I remember to look up this time, up at the crowns of the trees and the majesty of the forest, up at the blue skies.

The General Sherman tree stands before us huge, but we don’t realize how huge until we see it closer and from every angle. I’m shooting off digital pictures and video. Dad, the camera guy, is armed with his bulky box shooter and it won’t fire off. The battery-powered winder is dead and he’s forgotten the hand crank. So I’m implored to shoot more pictures while he stews over what he’s missing.

Ah, digital photography – just point it, shoot it, preview it, laugh at it, delete it if you must.

We do some more walking and admiring of this enchanted forest. It’s a holiday weekend and tourists are all over the place, mostly speaking Japanese. Mom and Dad are thinking about taking out a giant pine cone. We’re not sure if we can. She grabs a couple and a little up the way we run into a ranger.

“Can we take these?” Mom asks.

“Only if you can eat ‘em,” comes the reply. “And they’re really not good.”

Another ranger gives the same message to a kid up the way from us, albeit less whimsically.

Step away from the pine cone! I think.

We hike all the way back up to the car so Dad can get the camera crank and then drive down to the disabled entrance to the path, which is closer to the tree so Dad can get the money shot. Mom and I sit in the car and wait. Fortunately, everything worked.

All of us grab some lunch up the road and then venture on to the General Grant Tree, the national Christmas tree. But I’ll be darned if anybody’s going to try and decorate it. Why would you want to, anyway?

It’s late in the afternoon and the sun’s rays are dodging the branches, cutting through them, slicing through the forest. Shade is everywhere, making a hat happily unnecessary.

We stop at a couple of mountain overlooks. Snow actually dots a few mountain tops. Snow in July. I picture what all of this must look like in the wintertime. Atop a rock I can see it, the ground in the two feet of slow, white powder crowning every needle of every branch. I look into the mountains and see the forest in a portrait of white and green with grey skies above. It’s all in my head but it’s amazingly beautiful.

Whole families are getting out to take a look. This one group has at least six kids and four adults. How in the heck did they fit them into that mid-size SUV?

The trees passing by me in the car almost lull me to sleep. Everything’s so green...

No comments: