Monday, August 20, 2012

Giant Sequoias: a micro post

When white men first discovered the giant sequoias, they were pretty decently pleased.  "That there's a dem big tree" one can practically hear them say.  They cut one down and sent a 20' long section of trunk back to a big fair in Philadelphia, just to show how huge around they are.  The Phillies just laughed, and called it a California Hoax.

It's hard to comprehend the size of a giant sequoia, even when you're right up against it.  Our minds don't wrap around it right - it slides away, out the side doors of our ears.  Big, we say.  But we don't quite see how big.

Those early lumbermen did.  They calculated that by chopping down a single giant sequoia, they could harvest as much wood as from felling an entire acre of mature pines.  Too bad the trees were so enormous that they smashed to splinters under their own weight when they fell....

I tried to get pictures, but like several million camera-wielding tourists before me, mine still don't do justice to these trees.

Tall and thin, almost pencil-like in it's proportions.
From a distance, they're just a tree - a tall, slender tree.  Very tall, but also, upright and thin.

Each of those branches is fatter than the 300 year old oak in my yard.

The center tree - in the background, pale, bright orange - is the Grant Tree.  It is the second largest tree, by volume, in the world.  Here, it just looks tall.  And thin.  But look again.  Look at the fence.  That's a regular sized, split rail fence, the kind that keeps full-sized tourists from trampling on shallow roots.

You start to get a hint of the size when you're right up against them.  These trees are considerably wider than horses.
The Palamino is standing in front of a single tree.  Not three.  One.

Or these trunks might help.  These weren't particular large, as trunks went.  Much smaller than many.

Or maybe this photo, where my mother on horseback is still shorter than this mid-range sequoia is wide.  This one was small enough not to even shatter when it fell.

But we still couldn't wrap our minds around their girth until a ranger with a rope had us all get in a circle and spread out until we held the rope out to it's full extent, circled.  He'd cut the rope, he said, after wrapping it round the Grant Tree to measure the exact circumference.

My mother's house would have fit inside the circle we made with that rope.

Go back up and look at that first photo.  Imagine a horse at it's base.  Or a house.

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