Found inspiration in trees still standing
August 10, 2022
I found inspiration at a burn scar recently.
It was in California, which has been burning for years now as Exhibit A for the onset of climate change. I had driven into the state to pick up my daughter Maya at LAX, after she had traveled back in time (thanks to the international date line) from Japan to the U.S.
After embracing in the same space-time continuum, we spent a few hours under the smog of Los Angeles, then made our way into Sequoia National Forest, where some of the biggest trees on earth stand.
This is not to be confused with another famous forest of sequoia redwoods to the north, in Yosemite National Park, where the Oak Fire has been making national news. Sequoia National Park is farther south, still in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that spans 400-plus miles north-south in California.
As we drove into the forest, we saw after-effects of 2021’s Windy Fire. Last September, lightning ignited the fire that ultimately burned 97,528 acres. The area we went into was reopened to visitors a couple months earlier, and workers were still busy cutting down dead trees and repairing disfigured trails.
It was a sad sight to see. I’ve driven through burn scars in New Mexico many times, but this fire was particularly disturbing to me. It had burned the mighty redwoods, which I had admired from a distance for years and was about to see personally for the first time.
We camped and hiked at the Trail of 100 Giants, where there’s a forest full of massive sequoia trees towering above ponderosa pines and other indigenous undergrowth — with root systems that are, according to one of the interpretative signs, more wide than deep.
• • •
According to the National Park Service, more than 85% of the giant sequoia groves in California have been burned in wildfires since 2015.
“Giant sequoias have coexisted with fire for thousands of years,” reads a NPS article from last February. “Their thick, spongy bark insulates most trees from heat injury, and the branches of large sequoias grow high enough to avoid the flames of most fires.”
NPS also points out that the sequoia cones release their seeds in the heat generated by fires, allowing the seed to take root in “open, sunny patches where fire clears away fuels and kills smaller trees.”
In other words, fire is part of the life cycle that has kept these giants living and thriving for millennia.
“But starting in 2015,” the NPS article ominously continues, “higher-severity fires have killed large giant sequoias [4 feet or larger in diameter] in much greater numbers than has ever been recorded.”
• • •
So, with all this doom and gloom, where was my inspiration? I found it within the trees still standing.
Some were charred by fire, and yet they still stood, mighty and ancient, growing past their own scars. A couple had fallen in an earthquake that shook the region a decade earlier, their skeletons spread across the landscape, slowly returning to the earth. Others grew together from a common base, splitting into two tree trunks as they made their way to the sky. One tree we saw was part sequoia, part ponderosa pine, growing from a single base.
As we hiked among them, I imagined this mighty grove of trees as a community, interconnected through an enormous root system that feeds them all, with each tree protected by thick layers of bark that get thicker with each passing year.
Nature is resilient, even defiant, in its ability to survive. Somehow, life always finds a way.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at: