October 29, 2011



This is an account of a road trip to the Calaveras State Park in California in 2005.   My daughter Trisha and I decided on the spur of the moment to take advantage of the beautiful October weather and go see the BIG TREES. 
Carson City lies in the eastern shadows of the Carson Range, a part of the mighty Sierra Nevada.  No lush forests grace our side of the hill—we are definitely in desert terrain.
State route 88 west out of Gardnerville, Nevada leads in a very short time into a completely different world.  The scenery changes right before your eyes.  Scrubby pinion pine appears among the sagebrush and suddenly there is a forest.  The low hillsides become mountains and craggy cliffs and rocky outcroppings appear.   Soon we are climbing in low gear along a steep, winding two- lane road that eventually becomes a single lane with barely enough room for two cars to pass.  The road, carved into the hillside, rises higher and higher and the views over the ledge are heart-stopping.   After several miles and a number of switchbacks we reach the summit where a sign reads: EBBETS PASS  ELEV. 8,730 FT.
At this altitude Aspen trees thrive, and they are in brilliant
autumn foliage.  Along the roadside are groves of huge gnarled Aspens, white bark wounded and scarred, trunks twisted and bent, leaves all aquiver and their golden crowns ablaze against the deep blue of the sky.  The size of these trees may change your perception of Aspen trees.   Most often viewed in a mountain forest glen, stick straight, white trunks gleaming, leaves quaking, one seldom sees Aspen trees of this size.
  These elderly trees seemed to have survived many a hard winter and cruel winds.  We were told the Basque sheepherders camped among these trees, and their carvings are still prominent on the trunks.
The highway becomes a green tunnel, lined on either side by deep dense forest.  Conifers of all descriptions make up this world of trees.  Trees of several varieties, of incredible size and girth, living side by side thrive in these woods; White and yellow pine, Jeffery, Lodgepole and Sugar Pine, Incense Cedars and several varieties of Fir.
Sitting at a wood-side picnic table eating lunch, guidebook at hand, we try to identify our tree companions, the many varieties much evidenced by the different kinds of cones that litter the ground beneath our feet.

Calaveras State Park lies in California Gold Country and is home to two large groves where the Giant Sequoias stand.  These mammoth trees grow along side the mixed conifers within the state park.  We did not have the time nor the stamina to hike the entire park, and elected to spend most of the afternoon in the North Grove, which is on level ground and has marked trails and boardwalks.  Even so we were totally weary at the end of the day.
Weary but exalted.
How to describe the experience?
There are no words to convey the ambience of that forest.  It is a magical place.  Beneath the tall forest canopy is an under-story of California dogwood, and young seedling trees, and in this shimmering green space the light filters down.   Shadows flicker and the air sings.   There is a stillness that is not silence, but almost a music of the forest breathing.  One is aware of an unseen universe of animal and insect life, the breath of the plants, the heartbeat of the forest itself.   Beneath our feet the earth is soft, cushioned with eons of organic residue from which exudes the musk of decay, combined with the sharp incense of new growth.  The forest is a living, breathing entity.

Add to this the Giant Sequoias.  They reign supreme in this enchanted place.  One stands humbled in their presence.  The eye can barely take them in; the mind cannot comprehend them. One cannot quite believe them,  yet there they stand, a magnificent testament to your unbelief!
We read their history—stories that break the heart.  They have endured wind, drought and fire. Lightning has split them, burned them, killed them.  Yet they endure.  Worse, they have been skinned, cut and exploited by man out of pure greed and for profit.  Corpses of the dead giants lie in mute testimony on the forest floor.
Having once stood in the presence of these giants they seem to become living beings, and one feels akin to their pain, and witness to their triumph. 
To lean close against one of these, to sense the rhythm of its great heart, is to be one step closer to understanding the heart of God.

Betty L. Owen, journals  2005

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