The trees are so big that it would be cowardly not to deal with their bigness head on. They are very, very big. You already knew this — they’re called “giant sequoias” — and I knew it, too. But in person, their bigness still feels unexpected, revelatory. And the delirium of their size is enhanced by their age, by the knowledge that some of the oldest sequoias predate our best tools for processing and communicating phenomena like sequoias, that the trees are older than the English language and most of the world’s major religions — older by centuries, easily, even millenniums. The physical appearance of a tree cannot be deafening, and yet with these trees, it is. Facing down a sequoia, the most grammatically scrambled thoughts wind up feeling right. Really, there’s only so much a person can do or say. Often I found myself expelling a quivering, involuntary Whoa. […]
Late one afternoon, I lay down in the snow at the base of one for a while, watching as the fog poured in through its crown, and I remembered how untroubled Riksheim sounded at the bar the previous evening when, lowering his voice, he mentioned that there was a particular sequoia near his house that he was keeping an eye on. He could wake up dead tomorrow, he said. “It’s just that flying, fickle finger of Fate. Every once in a while, it’s going to point at you.” Then he fluttered his long, bony index finger through the air and lowered it with a sudden whoosh. Out of nowhere: crash. And I realized that his experience of it — a feeling of forsakenness, of arbitrary cruelty — would be essentially the same as the tree’s.
Two days later, I was snowshoeing around alone when I discovered I was standing in front of the same sequoia I had lain under. There, in the sloping snow at its roots, I saw my imprint. My back and legs and arms were joined into a wispy column, with the perfectly ovular hood of my parka rounding off the top. It looked like a snow angel, but also like a mummy — an image of both levity and dolefulness, neither all good nor all bad. I took a picture of it: what little of myself was left after I’d gone. The figure looked smaller and more delicate than I thought it should, but the Giant Forest was so quiet that I couldn’t imagine who else it could be.
Photo: The General Sherman Sequoia Tree – 275 feet tall, 100 feet around. Sequoia National Park from the foothills of central California’s Sierra Nevada. “To a human being, a 2,000-year-old sequoia seems immortal.” (David Benjamin Sherry)