If a smell could be a colour then I would have been breathing a vibrant spring-like green. The fragrance was piney-resin with an underlayer of warm damp soil following the rain shower the night before. It was sparkling clean and fresh, a soothing balm for my lungs. This was just part of the experience as we hiked through the Sequoia National Park which lies in the southern Sierra Nevada range in California.
The main draw of this magnificent park is of course the magnificent sequoia trees. Here grow some of the tallest trees in the world reaching a staggering 380 feet. The largest tree in the world (by volume) is also here in the forest. This epic tree is named “General Sherman” and is 275 feet tall and has a circumference of 103 feet! We were stumbling over our feet and getting cricks in our necks as we walked, chins tilted back, eyes squinting in to the sun as we strained to look up in to the sky-scraping canopy.
Their bark is deeply ridged, the colour of burnished cinnamon with a soft looking texture, like brushed cotton, that invited me to place my outstretched hand upon it. My fingers finding their place in the grooves, my palm connecting with the warmth and imagined pulse of these proud old sentinels.
I am in awe of these trees. Not just that they are so tall and wide, but that they grow from a seed the size of an oat flake and can live for over 2000 years. They embed their root system in to this ancient boulder strewn land, drawing nourishment from benevolent Mother Earth and stretching out their stubby branches to catch as much sunlight as they can on their frond like leaves. They are strong and resistant to disease and the many bugs who try to burrow in to their thick bark and due to this chunky, protective armour they manage to survive the wild forest fires. Many of the trees were blackened and damaged by the ferocious flames that licked their trunk, but despite being severely wounded, with gaping holes and great chunks having been burnt through, creating magical sculpture-like shapes, they are still alive and growing.
Walking amongst these grand old trees with a carpet of lavender-blue lupines beneath our feet would have made for a perfect day in itself, but the icing on the cake were the three bear sightings! One was of a small brown bear grazing and half hidden, in a distant wild flower meadow.
Another of a lone black bear just 30 feet from us engrossed in his search for grubs in a fallen log. But the most magical was of what I assume was a mother and her youngster. She was balancing on a log in a lush, green meadow and her cub was not far away basking in the sun.
This beautiful shaggy brown bear was very content and calm as she fed. She ambled closer to where we stood (only 20 feet away) and looked up straight in to my eyes.
No fear or aggression, just one being looking in to the eyes of another. She was unperturbed, knowing that she was the matriarch of this territory we were trespassing on, that she had the power and so she magnanimously ignored us, loping off up the hill on her wide padded paws.