Wednesday, July 1, 2009

magnificence in sequoia and king's canyon

Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks are in the southern part of California's Sierra mountain range. We drove the four plus hours from Alex's house in Sonora through the hideous, smoggy and stinking hot central valley and up into the mountains. As we climbed up to seven thousand feet, the air got cooler and clearer, a crisp and fresh break from the pollution and the endless chain stores below.

In the late afternoon, we arrived at King's Canyon, a sort of mini-Yosemite. A deep chasm (the deepest canyon in the US), it is a wilderness gem of white granite and deep pine forests set against the deepest blue of the summer mountain sky. We hiked through the varying terrain of an alpine setting - from deep and soggy coniferous forests to the moss and fern-covered banks of a raging glacial river to the harsh and surrounding desert of sun and hard granite, with gnarly, stubby shrubs and tiny lizards displaying the only signs of life.

After King's Canyon, we headed over to Sequoia National Park, home to one of the densest groves of sequoia trees in the world. Sequoia's are only found in the western Sierra's, and are incredibly unique trees as they are the largest trees in the world. Now, this is an amazing feat all in itself, but there's more. They are not only the largest plant, but they are the largest of all living things on this planet (yes, they're larger than a blue whale, I thought you'd ask that). Not only this, but they are also the largest living creature that has ever existed in the history of the earth! Amazing, is it not?

As it turns out, evolution is trending toward more and more complexity (well, that is, until homo sapiens showed up and spread all around the world, extinguishing any species larger than itself as they went along). In any case, this tree is the present point on a tremendously long series of adaptations and failures which trended increasingly toward more and more diversification of species. This tree is an outgrowth of that millions of years long process, and here we are able to witness it.

I watched a documentary recently (Encounters at the End of the World by Werner Herzog) about Antarctica, and in it one of the interviewees said something like, 'We are the creatures by which the Earth becomes aware of itself. We are the ones through which the universe can witness the magnificence of its own creation,' and I thought that was especially poignant at this moment. There were millions of years of bacteria and plants and fish and lizards and amphibians and mammals, and now, through the eyes of this strange hairless monkey, the world's growth and change and wonders are available to finally be beheld.

And in its presence, strangely, I didn't feel like an all powerful cognizant being. As can be imagined, I felt tiny, insignificant, meaningless. Knowing that this thing existed through countless human lifetimes, through wars, famines, empires, collapses. Yes, we are the creatures that can be aware of the real beauty and meaning of creation, but with this enhanced mental capacity we are also the ones who can destroy it, and have. I am just incredibly grateful that this one beautiful creature is still here, and I hope that it will remain.

1 comment:

jade said...

nice up and down viewing- ha