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Big Trees

Thursday, 29 May 2003
written by Teresa

Twin Giants They stand silently, patiently, in sun-dappled groves, in solitary splendour, a few in small groups, usually within sight of each other. The reddish glow of their trunks brings a subtle golden tone to the light on the forest floor, bark gnarled and folded like creases of thick ancient skin encasing their immense girths. Crowns of delicate feathery foliage festoon the highest reaches, the air suffused with the sweet smell of resin and wood. Ponderosa Pines fill in the gaps giving the illusion of thin spindly twigs cast among the giants. Glimpsed through the speckled light filtering through the forest canopy they are the stuff of make believe and fairy tales.

Looking Up Nothing quite prepares you for your first view of a Giant Sequoia. The sheer mass of the trunk is a shock that the brain struggles to comprehend. They are an order of largeness greater than you can begin to imagine, growing monoliths that take claim to the accolade of largest living things on the planet. As the eyes travel up, the neck cranes until the head rests on the back and still they reach upwards. They are colloquially known simply as the Big Trees but I sense a touch of humour in the coining of this phrase of understatement. They are out of all proportion with the surrounding vegetation and have a presence to match.

Belknap campground in the Sequoia National Forest must be one of the few places where we could park the camper directly underneath one of these wonderful giants, allowing us to look straight up the trunk while lying in bed. Belknap Camp Add to this the adjacent sight and sound of a snow melt swollen stream cascading on its way to the sea and you begin to get a sense of one of the most extraordinary pitches weve been fortunate enough to have.

The Redwood Grove Trail is a steep tortuous path leading out of Belknap up the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada range. Numerous tree falls make for limbo dancing practice or attempts at decorous scrambling. The steep sided valley gives unusual views into the very tops of some of the Sequoias but soon they are left behind as the way continues up through the perfumed Manzanita bushes and the fragrant pines, spring flowers adding further colour. As the muscles and the will are beginning to wane, Sterling In Grove the trail enters the edge of the grove and surprise and amazement are experienced anew. There is a wonderful wildness to this setting, giant trees, charcoal scarred by fire, protected by their immensely thick barks continue to stand sentinel through the centuries. These are comparatively young Sequoia, not having reached their gargantuan potential but still dwarfing everything in sight. The late afternoon light streams through the branches, bird song filtering down to where we meander through this wonderland.

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