September 25

1890 — Sequoia National Park established


“Did you ever read that Thomas Hardy novel, The Woodlanders?”

You expect this kind of comment from Wyatt.  He’s so well read that he can produce a literary reference to suit any occasion.  The skill makes him an excellent travel companion, since it’s like having your own tour guide to provide colorful commentary.  But it’s also a bit annoying, with his frequent “Did you ever read X?” construction.

“No Wyatt, I haven’t read The Woodlanders.  I could barely get through the first three chapters of Tess.” 

“Well, I’ll tell you, there’s this minor character named John South.  Remember him?  The poor old guy has this fixation on the large tree outside his bedroom window.”

Trees.  That explains what brought this particular book to your friend’s mind.  Right now the two of you are standing in Sequoia National Park, in the shadow of the world’s tallest tree.

“The guy thinks the tree is going to fall on his house,” Wyatt explains.  “He gets so nervous that it affects his health, and the doctor recommends the tree be removed.  Next morning the guy looks outside the window, sees the tree is gone, and drops dead from the shock.”

“Pretty gruesome.”

A plaque at the base of the tree identifies it as “General Sherman”  You try to take in the size of this immense living thing, beginning at the base and lifting your head slowly toward the top.  The tree keeps stretching higher, not ending when you expect it to, and the sensation makes you dizzy.  You keep craning your neck, and almost fall over backwards.

The Sequoiadendron giganteum throughout the aptly named Giant Forest have this effect on you.  Here, trees seem to defy all rules of growth and gravity.  The ground does not feel as steady beneath your feet, and the sky is not where it should be.

“In Hardy’s novel,” Wyatt explains, “the character connects his own life with the life of the tree.  That’s why he dies once the tree’s gone.  I sometimes wonder…”

This was usually the best part of your friend’s impromptu commentary — where Wyatt would leap from his literary reference toward some strange musing about the world around them.  The best part, or the most vexing, depending on your mood.

“…wonder, if a tree and a person could be intertwined like that, what connection would any of us have with a tree like General Sherman here?”

A storm has arrived with no warning.  A crowd of high tree-tops has blocked most of the day’s lingering sun, so you haven’t noticed that the sparse sky has clouded over.  It takes a low long rumble of thunder to make you realize how dark it’s gotten.

Wyatt continues his train of thought, ignoring the weather signs.  “Actually, I don’t think it’s a connection of trees to people, but to the Earth itself.  Since this is the tallest tree on Earth, maybe its life and the life of our entire planet are intertwined.  Destroy this giant sequoia, like the tree outside the character’s window in The Woodlanders…and maybe our whole planet would die of shock.  Something to think about.”

An explosion of light flashes above, and a bolt of lightning hits the giant tree with a blast of smoke and sparks and splintering wood.  General Sherman seems to groan from the strike, and you crane your neck again, surveying the height of the tree for damage, and again you feel dizzy, not sure if the tree is falling, or you are, or if the planet trembles with sympathetic expiration beneath you.