My wife, Denise, and I just returned from a twelve-day vacation in California. With exception of two business trips, this was our first time to explore the state. We are not the typical vacation tourists. We didn't visit Disneyland (we both grew up in the Orlando, FL area). We didn't hang out at a resort or seek out trendy places. After I completed my work with the Episcopal Church's General Convention, Denise met me in Anaheim. We rented a car and headed out -- away from the lights, glitz and concrete.
By way of the Central Valley, we ended up in Yosemite National Park. Between that park and Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, we spent a week staying in rustic cabins, hiking to showers, climbing steep trails and enjoying the pristine beauty. Of course, in Yosemite, there were at least a thousand other folks doing the same thing. However, these folks were there for the same reason -- getting outdoors and away from the bustle of mainstream culture and into a very different lifestyle -- one marked by cargo jeans/shorts, tee shirts, hiking shoes, back packs and floppy hats. Oh, and the obvious lack of starch, ironing boards and the myriad synthetic scents of perfumes and colognes (which one of our daughters calls "foo-foo").
The main reason we went to the High Sierra national parks was to see the "Old Ones" -- the towering giant sequoias. These silent giants have experienced up to 2,000 years of earth history -- most all of what we call the "Common Era" (CE). With girths up to 37.5 feet (the "General Sherman" sequoia of Sequoia National Park). and heights of 275 feet (same tree), one feels like a very small being next to these huge trees. It puts things in perspective very quickly indeed!
On a warm Wednesday morning, Denise and I found ourselves at the very south end of Yosemite National Park in Mariposa Grove. It is one of the largest remaining stands of giant sequoias in the world. As we hiked back to the less visited area, we found ourselves a forest of about a hundred silent giants of various ages. They towered over us and blocked the sky with their broccoli-like tops. The huge trunks all around us made it nearly impossible to take in the magnificence, majesty and shear size of these ancient living beings. I was immediately reminded of the Ents in "Lord of the Rings." I expected to hear deep, old and wise voices erupt -- sharing all that had been seen and experienced over the long centuries of their lives.
We stopped at one especially large sentinal. While this may sound strange, we pushed ourselves against the thick, red bark -- hands pressed against the tree and ears listening -- and could truly sense the life coursing through this old one. The connection was awesome and as if there was deep wisdom of the ways of the earth and surrounding environment. This tree -- with its brothers and sisters around it -- has outlived every other living thing on earth. It is bigger than every other living thing on earth. I became intimately aware of the meaning of the biblical reflection of human smallness next to the infinite reality of God.
Even along a trail, hiking in the wilds of the mountains of the High Sierra range is a journey that is made in silence. Surrounded by the myriad shades of green, the hues reds and golds of other plants, sounds of birds, constant movement of water in streams, and the challenge of walking over rocks and around boulders one becomes lost in the mystery and wonder that is creation. What I see, as I make this journey, is very much what the earliest humans saw as they journeyed here. There is connection. As I sit quietly on an ancient boulder, empty myself of internal chatter (constant pre-occupation with what I believe to be so important in life), and become really aware of my surroundings, the wisdom of creation touches my inner being and bathes me with a kind of peace and intimacy that renews, heals and cleanses. As I emerge from this time of contemplation, it becomes clear to me just how trivial most of what we call important in life really is. I'm suddenly alive to possibility.
After two weeks of General Convention, coming to the Sierra Nevada Mountains to hike the national park trails renews perspective and washes clean the crustiness that comes with being consumed with issues and business we believe to be so important. Yes, the importance is there, and the need to maintain community is essential, but it always needs to be placed within the perspective of true reality -- the one created by God in which we play but one part of a huge tapestry of life. One sure way to gain that perspective is to walk among the Silent Giants in the High Sierra range.