There are big trees, and then there are big trees. In Sequoia National Park, there are neither. Instead, there are BFTs (Come on … you know what the “F” stands for.)
The Giant Forest in Sequoia is home to three of the five largest sequoias in the world. Straight, tall, wide, plentiful. It’s tempting to say that if you’ve seen one big tree, you’ve seen them all, but I don’t think that’s true at all. Like people, each tree seems to have its own personality. In fact, the park has named many of the trees after people—McKinley, Roosevelt, Grant, Lee … even Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton (a personal favorite). I was hoping to find a John Muir tree, but when I asked about the names, the park ranger told me there wasn’t a Muir tree, and, in fact, they stopped naming trees because people were so focused on the names they forgot to focus on the trees.
Traveling in national parks is different than traveling in other places. It’s funny to think we spent a whole day hiking around looking at trees, but the stateliness and expansive height of these trees also makes them unworthy of the ordinary title of “tree.”They loom overhead, their canopies meeting overhead, the light slicing through to deliver a sliver of sunshine on the earth below. On a hike around Crescent Meadow, we found Tharp’s log, a cabin of sorts built inside the trunk of a fallen giant sequoia. For 30 summers, Tharp brought his cattle to graze in the meadow; I suppose he hung out in his “trunk” cabin, kicked back a beer or two and thought about how very cool it was that he lived inside a BFT.
Sequoias have surprisingly shallow root systems, and they apparently will fall over with little to no notice. Gnarled and tangled, the uprooted tree bottoms play tricks with the light, making them ideal for creative photography.
Though the sequoias in general are all straight, tall and wide, they do all have a unique sense of character. The Triple Trees laughed at me mockingly as I compared my wingspan to only a fraction of its girth. An unnamed tree that had grown around a boulder looked like a person blowing a gigantic bubble gum bubble. On the Congress Trail—the best hike in the area, in my opinion, and one of our less crowded destinations of the day—The President stood majestic and isolated; Chief Sequoyah was also on its own, but set back from the trail. I suppose a person could read into the placement of those two trees. My favorite patch of sequoias, also on the Congress Trail, was The Senate, a small but truly grand cluster of trees that clearly showed they dominated that natural space. They knew how to manipulate light and swallow any feelings of superiority that a human might bring on the trail. Down the path stood The House, a cluster of fewer trees but not nearly as expansive and impressive. And General Sherman, though overcrowded with visitors, is the ultimate BFT as the largest tree in the world by weight and density.
National parks have a way of keeping humans’ egos in check. Sometimes it’s the force of a mighty river that would take a person down instantaneously. Occasionally sheer mountain cliffs bring us down to size. There are the large, expansive meadows which go on for miles and miles and miles, reminding us how small we are in grand scheme of nature. In Sequoia National Park, we walked around with our necks bent backward, cramps creeping up our shoulders in an attempt to fully grasp the monstrosity of the world’s largest BFTs.