Two-thirty in the morning, awake, paralyzed with pain. I turned on the TV for distraction. Counting the minutes until my next morphine dose. This went badly.
Me: Hey it’s been four hours since my last dose, can I have my morphine now?
Nurse: I already gave you your morphine. You need to wait four more hours.
Me: Did you steal my morphine? You stole my morphine.
A sleepless night. In 1995, no cell phones yet to kill time. I watched the 1952 movie The Big Trees staring Kirk Douglas. The volume so low, I could barely hear. My first night out of the ICU following a bicycle accident. My roommate snored behind a curtain. I didn’t want to wake him. My brain groggy and scrambled from impact, I tried to follow the plot.
A do-gooder woman played by Eve Miller begged a logging company to spare the giant sequoias. Based on my memory, she did some math to convince them. She proved a higher return on profit when cutting smaller trees. The movie was insanely boring. Kirk Douglas hated it. I endured a miserable night.
The Big Trees—not sure why I still remember this, but Eve’s character spoke poetically, reverently about the trees, as though they have souls. This mindset was outside of my experience. Soon, I would take trips to the desert and develop this relationship with rocks. Trees never captured my imagination. Until yesterday. Now I understand what she felt.
We spent the afternoon in Jedediah Smith State Park. I hoped for a longish hike, maybe the Boy Scout Tree Trail. A moderately difficult five-mile out and back, the destination, a massive redwood ‘discovered’ by a boy scout on an outing with his troop. We got into the park late. A slow morning: we slept in, had a lazy coffee hour, ate a café breakfast, inefficiently gathered our necessities, became confused about where to find the visitors center. We didn’t start hiking until two o’clock.
We settled for the short Grove of Titans trail and the even shorter Simpson-Reed trail. Four miles of walking on groomed paths, one actually wheelchair accessible. Not the rugged fitness adventure I hoped for. I couldn’t be happier.
The easy hiking freed me up to gawk at the trees. God! What trees! Each one more astounding than the last. So huge, they’re almost incomprehensible. These trees, some of them, were already growing when Jesus was born. The Grove of Titans, the iconic, must-hike trail in the park, meandered along a dirt and boardwalk path, leading from one giant tree to the next. Fifteen-foot-high walls—fallen trees—established the trail boundary in some places. Each time we noticed the next massive tree down the path, we let out audible gasps. The only downside was the crowd. For a family from central Pennsylvania, where most hikes never cross paths with other people, encountering intermittent groups of two to five people detracted from the magic.
After an ice cream snack from McDonald’s—this area doesn’t seem to have any real ice cream shops which are a mandatory daily stop on our family vacations—we moved on to the Simpson-Reed trail. This comparatively lightly-hiked trail wound through an old-growth forest with six-foot ferns, mossy stream beds and three-hundred-foot trees. I kept expecting to see dinosaurs as I rounded bends in the trail. Instead, we saw trees even bigger than at the Grove of Titans. One, possibly the largest in the park, I attempted to measure. I counted the number of arm-spans I could reach to circumnavigate the tree. Fourteen. At a conservative five and a half feet each, the tree’s circumference measured seventy-seven feet.
Susan googled facts. “Redwoods can weigh up to twelve-million pounds.”
Thinking back to the movie, I honestly can’t imagine someone harvesting one of these trees for lumber. It would be lucrative for sure, but each tree cut down would be like killing a supernatural being. In every tree, I imagine a personality, a soul. The only other time I encountered this feeling was among the rock formations at Arches National Park in Utah. These trees, those rocks, gods-incarnate. For a non-religious person like me, the Simpson-Reed trail served as a spiritual experience. Strolling among these giants became the highlight of an already wonderful trip.