Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Quiet Giants and Why Feeling Small is Good for the Soul

Back in the 80's when I was a mutt, my parents loaded everyone up and took us to Oregon and Northern California.  It was such a stark contrast to my Idaho and it's own form of beauty.  Luscious, deep, and bursting with life, I fell in love first with the city parks in Oregon.  I remember everyone having lunch in a park in Medford, Oregon, marveling at a bicyle world that I could only dream of as a gutter rider on Apache Avenue.  Hilly parks with paved trails, including bridges for bicycles!  All of this on top of tennis courts, basketball courts, and lots of playground equipment.

It was a trip never to forget, especially because just as we were descending into Redwood Country I got sick and huddled over a barf mug for an entire day.   I up-chucked twelve times.  Twelve times! With each disgusting release of my stomach, I added a tally mark in my head and felt my martyr status grow.

Yet...and yet! I was lost in a marvelous world of trees unfathomable in size.  By day two, I was cured, and happily scurried into the intended frame as viewed by my mother and her silver Minolta camera, capturing everything on Kodak.

And so it was with great anticipation, that I scoured the internet to find a Redwood Grove the little Olsen's could visit on a recent trip to the Sierra Nevada Region of California.  Even in the heart of winter, it did not disappoint.  So we have the Olsen's meet Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

We stayed at Angels Camp, the site of an old gold-miners camp during the Gold Rush.  I checked the weather report for Angels Camp, noted a high of 61 for the day, then promptly tucked away our winter boots.  My little clothes-horse Isaac, the only one with multiple jacket options, was downgraded to his red jacket.  

We drove the short 20 miles to Big Trees Park (near Arnold, California) and found ourselves with snow-packed trails, garnering me the mother of the year award as my little man slowly froze throughout the day.

Fortunately, hats and mittens were in our car still.  Here's Isaac after he inherited mom's mittens and hat.

While much of the summer lushness is gone in winter, I found visiting Calaveras Big Trees State Park in January to be almost perfect.  We practically had the entire trail to ourselves (North Grove Trail) and the combination of green foliage and red trees against a plain white canvas was visually delightful.

White, Green, Brownish-Red.  Downright perfect if you ask me.

This grove is interspersed with pines and cedar, as you can see in the foreground.

The North Grove Trail was a flat 1.5 mile loop that had 26 stops narrated by the park booklet available for 50 cents.  It truly was teaching a lesson about the history of the grove, and inspiring visitors to be better protectors of wild places. 

There was an irony, as I found myself most excited for photo ops at the places where these trees were exploited most.   Here's a few examples:

This is the mack-daddy tree.  It was discovered (white-man discovered) in 1852 and quickly spread through Goldminers Camps and beyond to the east.  A year later, speculators came and chopped the thing down.  It took 21 days with augers and wedges as no saw was big enough, and still then the symmetrical giant didn't fall for a few days.  And yet, it fulfills my curiosity of knowing just how big are these trees? 

After it was felled, they used the stump as a dance stage.  

An early drawing showing the Discovery Tree Stump dance floor. The lithograph caption reads: The Stump and Trunk of the MAMMOTH TREE of Calaveras. Showing a Cotillion Party of Thirty-two Persons Dancing on the Stump at one time.”  Source

Here's Leif, Chloe, and Isaac at differing perspectives, all standing atop the massive "Discovery Stump".

Here's the "Mother of the Forest".  Her bark was harvested in 8 foot sections, in order to be rebuilt in an exhibit in New York and London.  This prompted a growing chorus of outrage, as this thousand-plus year old tree was now defunct in opportunities to carry nutrients and sugar through the structure.

 Near the end of the loop you come to this carved tunnel.  Such a fun photo op right?  This was carved in the 1880's after Yosemite (somewhat close) had carved a similar tunnel and was stealing tourism traffic away from Calaveras.  You can find these sorts of things all over different groves in Northern California.  It is now illegal to do this to these protected trees.

The exploited trees in the grove did meet my needs of curiosity and my pretenses of being a scientist.  Well just how big is it around? (Well step on it, we chopped it down!)  Well, just how tall are they? (We harvested it's bark, come take a look!)  Could you live in it, drive through it, or walk through it? (You bet, we hacked a clearing right through the center!).

With our stopping and learning at each new avenue, it became clear how much kids are sponges.  You have to be careful! They lack maturity to find balance.  Soon I could hear statements like: "Why would they do that to the Mother Tree? Why are people so mean? People are so bad!" until there was a reassurance that the Mother Tree was perhaps content in teaching a lesson, and how there was much excitement and goodness all around.  

Here's some more pictures of our visit.  We stayed about 2 hours, and the kids reactions were exactly what I was hoping for.  Amazement! Magic! Wonder!

Prepare to crank your neck up a lot.  Here's The Mister with sunburst and wonder.

 There's four of us at differing depths of this fallen tree.  Can you find us all?
 Here I am inside the same tree, now I'm looking out to the clan.

 Here is Isaac standing by the plackard showing a picture from this spot 100+ years ago.  Notice the background as dad films brother and sister making their way through the long tunnel.

Below, is a fuller angle of this fallen "Father-of-the-Forest".

These big trees were often named after famous people in the 1800's.  This tree was named "Abraham Lincoln" just after his martyrdom in 1865.  In honor of Abe's #1 fan (Herm-Daddy) and one of the BEST movies of 2012, we though we'd all take a chance to take a picture with ole Abe.

 Starting to get cold.  Hey buddy, we'll go eat some lunch soon!
 Look how he can turn off those waterworks just like that!
 What a handsome boy in his new Christmas coat, mittens, and hat!

Is it legal to put this many pictures on a post!

That's a wrap.  My #1 regret and bit of advice, visit this place with a ball of yarn.  Loop it around one of these trees and cut it.  Place in a jar with some pine needles for a fun memory display.



Aimee said...

These pictures look awfully familiar (minus the snow) :) We were in Big Trees 2 1/2 years ago. What a fun perspective in the winter though!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the picture tour--almost felt like we were there (but a little warmer). Good job. Love, Mom

LGH said...

Fabulous photos and captions.

Janet O. said...

I think it looks magical to have been there in the snow and so alone. Wonderful photos, Amber--and such a cute family!

Lee Family said...

I'm so glad you weren't barfing this time... Did u change your kids' names? Beautiful pics! You are creative, artistic, loving, and a total tree-hugger

jennaloha said...

Great pics, very fitting to make a giant post about giant trees. Made me wanna go there. Bad. I am needing to see beautiful scenery.