Travel Log: General Sherman

I stopped in one of the last towns to fill up on gas and get supplies–which consisted mainly of sandwich bread, two cans of tuna, some fruit and peanut butter–before starting into the mountains, into Sequoia National Park, where I’d sleep for two nights.

Desert Town - California - Central Valley - Quinby & Co
Small town in the desert, where I got a quick breakfast.

 

After getting to my campground and setting up my tent, I set out to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.  I reached the trailhead and made my way into the grove, warm and stuffed with tourists wandering and laughing and taking pictures. I heard babies and toddlers crying and whining, and kids sprinting up and down the trail playing tag and accidentally photobombing the pictures of strangers. I continued and noticed the larger crowds gathering to snap a picture of something in the distance, still obstructed from my view, but something I knew could only be the General Sherman Tree.

It stood mightily at the center, surrounded by excited onlookers who looked like ants by comparison.  It was crowded with admirers and yet it seemed strangely alone. A silent sage. A wise man who’d seen generations come and go, had witnessed all the great moments of human history from the very spot upon which it stood. I even pictured some legend of the silver screen, growing old though still appearing ageless, encountering a crowd of photographers or tourists taking their picture, but just taking it in stride like a professional. They’re no stranger to the attention, after all.  They’ve seen it all before.

General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman Tree, and the ants at its feet; Sequoia National Park, CA

I understood and appreciated the truth that trees, like all other plants on earth, are living breathing organisms. And the more I looked at General Sherman, a tree more than 3,000 years old, the more I appreciated the relevance of these truths which concern all living things on the planet. The more I looked at it, the more I connected with it.

Still I felt like it was looking way past me, somewhere far beyond where I stood; and that despite its age and wisdom and experience far superior to my own, it too was still something of a lost soul searching and still unsatisfied with everything it had so far understood its purpose to be on this earth. It was the king of these mountains, but it was still subservient to a higher order it didn’t fully understand.

A soft rain fell, more like a mist than a rain. It probably only lasted a minute, but it seemed longer, as if the rain had slowed down time. In that moment the surrounding tourists vanished from sight and left the two of us alone, facing eachother.

The rays of the sun beamed in through the forest, shining down on us both, revealing the tree in all its eternal youth and ancient power, as the reclusive angel, having kept its vigil for centuries way up here in this shadowy grove, high up in the mountains.

We were pilgrims, old and young. Angel and man. Man and angel. Guardian angel, maybe. Brothers.  In that moment, we were no longer separate from each other.  We never had been.  There I stood, once again remembering something I seemed to know long ago.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Quinby & Co.
General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt this way about anything in nature. It wouldn’t be the last. Unbeknownst to me, an entire network existed, scattered far across the wilderness of America, and farther still, across the Atlantic Ocean and out to the far eastern reaches of Europe.  It took the form of people I’d meet, and the many beautiful things I’d see along the way.

It was ocean and sky, woman and man, living and passed on.  With them I felt connected in common cause: that each of us might reach the realization of love and respect for all living things.  An understanding of our ongoing, unfailing connection to one another.

I remembered something from my early days in the church that made more sense to me now than it did before.  As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.  United in one breath, one beating heart.

Kaweah River - Lodgepole Campground - Sequoia National Park - California - Sequoia - Quinby & Co.
Kaweah River at Lodgepole Campground; Sequoia National Park, CA

The thought didn’t occur to me at the time, standing in the shadow of General Sherman and the mighty sequoia.  It only does now, as I recall the story and wonder how it might sound to someone reading this. Truth be told, prior to this experience, I wasn’t much of an outdoors person.  I liked to be outside as much as the next guy, but I’d never really camped before at all, and I’d never done much hiking beyond the typical neighborhood hikes in and around LA.

I’d never spent much time in the mountains, amongst the trees whispering at night.  I’d never lay quiet, listening for melodies beside the creek in the early evening.  I’d never breathed in the rush of the river beneath the new morning and the slow, rising sun. 

Now, that was all about to change.

General Sherman - General Sherman Tree - Sequoia National Park - Sequoia - California - National Park - Ren Michael - Quinby & Co.
The tree is my brother. Me and General Sherman; Sequoia National Park, CA

Travel Log: Hearts in Half-Dome

I’ve been thinking a lot about Yosemite these last few months, living in quarantine and longing for the outdoors again, for wide open spaces.

In a lot of ways, my love for the National Parks began here, at least in the sense that I was suddenly aware of it, where I fully realized my devotion to the Parks and recognized them as a valuable and critical American Institution.  

While my connection to these places mostly began at Sequoia and Kings Canyon–which I’d visited in the days leading up to Yosemite–when I reached Glacier Point that afternoon and stood at the overlook, and I took in that sweeping panorama of the valley, of Half Dome, the Merced River, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Vernal and Nevada Falls; at that moment my love for the parks was ultimately affirmed.  I’d never seen anything so spectacular in my life. 

Ren Michael - Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Yosemite Valley
Ren Michael at Glacier Point over looking Yosemite Valley; Yosemite National Park, CA

What’s uniquely striking is the silence, maybe because a sight like Yosemite Valley might lead one to imagine an accompanying sound of equal magnificence, some choir of angelic voices or maybe the low, grumbling of the earth churning from the infernal depths between here and the planet’s core.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, maybe?  Something, anything befitting a sight so wondrous.

And yet the only sound was silence save for the whispering echo of a waterfall.  As I looked out, I saw a blackbird soaring through the air, and I remember how for a few seconds at least, it seemed to be the loudest note anywhere around me, a reminder of how silence can allow for other smaller details to sing.

I remember Half Dome most of all, standing there like some benevolent king overlooking the valley and seeing far past the horizon. 

I have a tendency to think this way, to look at a natural landscape or a particular landmark and project an emotion onto it, or more specifically an archetype.  It’s a creative impulse that might raise a few eyebrows here and there, but it’s an impulse I don’t resist. 

Glacier Point Overlook - Yosemite National Park - Nevada Falls - Vernal Falls - Yosemite - Quinby & Co.
Glacier Point Overlook with Nevada and Vernal Falls visible in the distance just to the left of the tree in the foreground; Yosemite National Park, CA

I saw Half-Dome as an emissary having kept its vigil for eons, since the earth’s beginnings.  Might it be in tune with something more all-encompassing than we could fully understand in a single lifetime?  Or better yet, was it merely one of many reminders across the globe that we too have access to the deeper currents and vibrations guiding all of life on earth?  All we have to do is get out of our own way.

It’s incredible to think to myself, even as I write this morning, how a mass of rock can inspire that sort of contemplation.  That it can steady me through times of great sorrow and uncertainty, if I just remember it.  I don’t even need to be there and look at it.  Just knowing that it’s there anchors me.  What a gift that is. 

Nevertheless, I’m thankful I got to see it that day, and I am most definitely looking forward to getting back and experiencing Yosemite once again, discovering new corners of the park I haven’t seen before.  

That afternoon, I thought about all the generations of people who had come here before me and marveled at the same sight.  Had they experienced the same thoughts and feelings as I did?  I was sure there were many.  I felt tied to all those people, and proud to carry on what I suspected was a long human tradition.

As I finally turned around and began my descent down into the valley, I kept that sight with me, one that has been with me ever since, smiling to myself and maybe just half-aware of the fact that my life would never be the same again.

Ren Michael - Yosemite Valley - Half Dome - Yosemite National Park - Quinby & Co.
Valley views from Glacier Point. Half Dome is the taller formation on the right. // Yosemite National Park, CA

 

Ren Michael - Signature - Quinby & Co.