When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by a photo of a car driving through the trunk of a tree. Last week I was in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove, where this infamous Giant Sequoia lived, until its life was abbreviated by the folly of men.
In 1881, a tunnel was carved out of this magnificent specimen, and the road re-routed through its trunk as a tourist attraction….. as if the tree itself was not enough. It succumbed to a storm in 1969 at the astounding age of 2,300 years.
Fortunately, the Park has moved past ‘special attractions.’ Its natural wonders attract tourists from all corners of the earth, who come to marvel at the sheer granite face of El Capitan, the astonishing cascade of water from Yosemite Falls, and the grandeur of the Sequoias. Crowds wander amongst these great trees, spellbound by their girth, longevity, and resilience.
Here is a serene grove of Sequoia.
One of the first ads I remember on TV as a child was Smokey the Bear. My siblings and I would mimic our hero, as we wagged our finger and quipped with heartfelt sincerity: “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
For years, the Forest Service had fought to suppress fires from natural causes, such as lightening strikes and fires accidentally set by people.
Park Rangers in concert with scientists, have more recently determined that controlled fires are advantageous, as long as people and property are not in danger.
Periodic burning prevents the rapacious fires we’ve seen in recent years fueled by overgrowth burning at higher temperatures, sometimes even spreading fire underground.
Periodic fires replenish the nutrients in the soil. They thin the forest canopy, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor, creating a hospitable environment for native species, and more food for wildlife. They keep troublesome invasives and insect pests at bay. Fire also helps open the seeds of some species like the Sequoia, which benefit from a head start over faster growing species like the Jeffrey and Sugar pines.
The forest looks ravaged after a fire, but the forest floor is vibrant with new life.
Most of the Sequoia exhibit scars at their base from ancient fires. Their bark is a tough fibrous shield up to three feet thick at the base.
Fire has been part of the earth’s natural order for thousands of years.
I marvel at how plentifully this planet provides for us. Sometimes we get a peep of insight into our complex interrelationship with everything else on this great whirling world. We are a player in this intricate web of life. We spend untold fortunes to unravel its mysteries, enjoy every canyon and mountaintop and try to harness, and all too often waste, its awesome power and resources. Throughout all our bumbling, Mother Nature fights to maintain equilibrium. Occasionally, when we stop meddling and abusing her, we’re struck by how she is so capable of renewing and repairing the wounds we inflict.
And sometimes she gives us a rainbow that looks like a butterfly.