A tree that was…And still is!!!!

I thought this post was worth reblogging. It compliments my post “I Am Sequoia” very well.

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GLOBAL SAFARI

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The big banyan tree

Nature always fascinates me and giant trees that have lived for hundreds of years are real wonders. They have seen the history in the making and must have witnessed so many wonderful things. There is such a tree, popularly known as the Great Banyan Tree, near the city of Bangalore in Southern India. Spread across an area of around 4 acres, the tree is more than 400 years old and its crown circumference is more than 250 meters wide.

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The maze of aerial roots.

Called the Dodda Alada Mara in the local language, it is hard to imagine that this is just one single tree. The main trunk of the tree is long dead but it is still lush and green, thanks to its thousands of aerial roots, which in themselves appear like huge trunks. The botanical name of the tree is Ficus Benghalensis and the…

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The Creek

I was only trying to get out of the inferno that was my house one July afternoon and maybe catch a breeze if I was lucky. What motivated me to take along my camera I can’t remember. Any other time I would have taken my fishing pole and whatever I could find in the fridge for bait. In the past few years, though, the fishing in the creek, over the levy where I was headed, hadn’t been worth the effort. Maybe I hoped to shoot a bird or butterfly or some other form of suburban wildlife.The Creek

This was my first trip of the summer over the levy to the creek. I fully expected to find a trickle of water lazily flowing through an otherwise parched creek bed, dry overgrown cat tails, and ankle high grass that snapped and crackled under foot. I didn’t. What I found was a lush oasis that snaked for miles through Sacramento’s North side. Not a dry blade or withered leaf could be found. There was no breeze in the world beyond the levy, but here it seemed to skim the water picking up a very pleasant grassy fragrance and gently wiping away the sweat from the tip of my nose.

I sat on the concrete edge of one of the creeks many tributaries. It was obvious that this one had not contributed in a long while. The rusted steel door was all but hidden by creek flora. The weight of my camera hanging from its lanyard around my neck only now caught my attention. I’d almost forgotten it was there. Now, what to shoot? I could have held the camera at arm’s length and snapped in any direction and it would have been an awesome shot. And I did capture lots of stunning moments though I refrained from any haphazard takes.

The landscape across the creek was even more amazing than on my side. It was mirrored off the water’s surface without a ripple. As pleasant as my side of the creek was the other side looked more inviting. More trees. More shade! The early afternoon sun taunted me to find a way across. Though I was dressed for it, wading across was not an option. This was still a creek fed by storm drain run-off loaded with everything imaginable that could find its way into a storm drain. The nearest bridge was about a quarter mile away. I could see it. I could also see there was no easy way to get there. In the past drier years there was a clear path to the bridge. This year it was a path only for fish and tad poles. I decided to be satisfied with the sparsely shaded concrete slab. I could get some great shots either here or there and it wasn’t that hot. (I’m great at excuses.)

After snapping a dozen shots or so I sat quietly and let the other side of levy drift out of my head. I had found a truly tranquil getaway. This was not the same creek that I had plucked sandwich sized blue gill from for the past ten years (when there was enough water to support them). This year the creek would be my little secret not to

be shared. If I invited someone along the tranquility would most assuredly be spoiled. The humming bird sipping nectar not ten feet from me would not appreciate the extra company. There would not be enough shade for another. The buzz of bees pollenating would be muted. I may as well stay in that other place with no cooling breeze and no reflections of oaks. I would not even notice small fish plucking insects from the water’s surface.

A while later the sounds of children making their way over the levy broke the serenity. They came with their sticks and throwing rocks into the calm water distorting the oaks. They came running and jumping and kicking and laughing. The humming bird was lucky to have wings that could whisk him to the other side where peace was still in abundance. My first reaction was anger that such a peaceful place was being overrun by utter disrespect for nature. Then I came to my senses. These children were a part of nature. A very innocent part of it. I myself played by a creek side not unlike this one. I threw rocks into the water and flung sticks across the creek. I imprisoned insects in mayonnaise jars. I did not appreciate or even notice the stunning beauty of it all at the time. And I realized that these kids were unaware or maybe unable to perceive the creek in the same way that I did and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. To me this place was a sanctuary. A place for peace and quiet. To them it was simply an awesome place to play and explore. It served the same purpose for both; a brief escape from responsibilities.

More people came. This time adults with fishing gear. It then occurred to me that my sanctuary was not my own. It was not here for my pleasure alone. This was nature and should be enjoyed by all who love it. Once I settled with this reality it was easy to integrate the sights and sounds of the people with the sights and sounds of the birds, the bees, and the insects. I visited the creek only a few more times that summer, but none was like that hot July day when I came away with something that changed my perception of the world. From that day until this, I have had the ability to find peace and tranquility almost anywhere and at almost any time.

I never made my way to the other side of the creek. The side that seemed devoid of human presence. I had decided that it was better to be on my side. There were birds and bees and kids and fishermen. This was nature unadulterated.

Worlds Apart

Early one Monday morning Lisa is awaken by her mother. It’s time to get up and prepare for school. Lisa doesn’t want to get out of bed, she was up late last night playing her Nintendo DS. A while later she finally manages to crawl from beneath her blanket, slip on her house shoes and robe, and lazily stride into the kitchen where her mother and father are sitting at the table having coffee. Before she can take a seat at the table her mother commands, “Go brush your teeth, Lisa”. In the bathroom she laces her electric Sponge Bob Square Pants toothbrush with bubble gum flavored paste that is supposed to fight cavities, and brushes her teeth.1377136117777[1]

That same Monday morning Nell is awaken by the crying of her younger brothers. They are a hungry three year old and one year old who depend on their older sister for everything. She throws off her tattered and dirty blanket and wraps them in it to stop their crying. It doesn’t work. From the fly covered kettle that still sits on the fire pit just outside the tent door Nell scoops a bit of cassava root soup with the wooden spoon used to stir the pot and feeds it to her little brothers. A few more scoops and they are quiet… for a while. She takes a few scoops for herself to ease the hunger in her own stomach.

Later that morning Lisa is dressed in her school uniform; tan khakis and a blue Polo. Her stomach is filled with microwaved waffles, scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice. She doesn’t like the crust on her toast so she carefully peeled it off and left it on the plate for trash along with some of the egg. She wishes her toast didn’t come with the crust, that way she wouldn’t have to bother with peeling it off. With backpack in hand Lisa and her father climb into the family sedan and drive the half mile to her school where she routinely receives the highest marks in her sixth grade class. Lisa has lots of friends in her school and all the teachers know and love her. Last year she made the principal’s list for academic excellence and for perfect attendance. Her father kisses her good-bye and heads off to work.

After feeding her brothers cassava root soup which her mother taught her to make before she and her new husband abandoned the children, Nell lulled them back to sleep so that she could walk the two miles to the river to collect some water. Nell can’t take her brothers with her to the river because she can’t carry the bucket of water on her head and hold their hands at the same time. When she arrives at the river the sun is already very hot and there are people all along the banks collecting water and bathing and washing clothes. Nell knows that she is one of the youngest in the crowd and she knows that it can be dangerous for her so she finds a place near a group of women and away from most of the men. She finds comfort among the women… most of them. The women give her no special greeting but they acknowledge the twelve year old and give those men, who seem to be interested, looks that keep them at bay. Looks that say, “We are watching you so don’t you try anything.” Knee deep in the river, Nell holds an old shirt over the mouth of her bucket to filter the water as she dips it in the river. The shirt will also serve as the buckets cover on her journey home.

Lisa had been waiting all weekend for today to come. Today is when her class is performing their dance recital. They have been practicing for a long time and are eager to perform for their parents. Lisa loves to see her mother and father in the crowd while she’s performing and they have never missed a single recital. They are thinking of enrolling her in a performing arts high school when the time comes but for now they will continue to encourage and cheer her on.

Nell has rested from her trip to the river and must now leave her brothers again to go into the market place to beg and steal. If she didn’t have to care for her brothers she could survive without going to the market, or at least get there earlier before the other children beat her to the best pickings. The market is a dangerous place for a thief adult or child. The merchants will have no mercy on her if she is caught so she only goes once or twice a week. Nell only steals food or small trinkets that she can sell to passersby on the way home. Some of the other kids make a living by picking pockets and working in groups. This is too risky for her, besides she doesn’t like having to steal anyway.

On the way home from the recital Lisa’s reward for an awesome job was a peperoni pizza dinner which she devours, except for the crust. It’s been a long day for her and she is very tired but she fights her sleepiness anyway. In her bed she plays her Nintendo until she falls to sleep to be ready for another day.

Nell can only stay away from her brothers for a short time so nothing will happen to them, so she often has to leave the market empty handed as she does today. She has to feed her brothers and cook more cassava root soup because the kettle is nearly empty. She will use some of the water she collected earlier to bathe the boys before night falls. Nell hates the nighttime because she is small and cannot defend herself against the badness of the night. She prays before bed every night, usually for her mother to return someday.

I Am Sequoia

A ray of sunlight finds its way to the forest floor where I was patiently waiting to bathe in its life giving glory. Day after day I would wait for that brief few minutes of nourishing light and with all my strength I would reach upward trying to grasp it. The light was not abundant on the forest floor but as I grew taller my daily sun bath grew longer. For a while I was afraid that some animal was going to eat me during the night, but the taller I grew the more confident I was that nothing could harm me. I am a mighty Sequoia Redwood. I have been standing tall on the north western coastline of North America for over half a millennium and this is my story.04-lone-tree-714

I was fortunate, as a seed falling from my mother tree, to land in an ideal spot to germinate where the sunlight was able to penetrate the dense canopy above that was the needled branches of my relatives. The soil was rich, the air clean and fresh so I was able to grow tall and strong but I seemed to slow down well before I reached the heights of the others. And as the years passed and I took my place among the other trees I struggled to draw up enough water to nourish my highest branches. . But then I found a new source of replenishing water. Fog. The fog rolled in off the ocean most every day which I was able to absorb through my leaves and reach even further for the life giving sun.

We lived in harmony with the earth for hundreds of years, some for thousands. But then came a creature that did not know peace or harmony. These creatures murdered thousands of us. A once flourishing forest dwindled as they fell one tree after another and hauled the massive dying bodies away from where they stood for so long. These creatures made a terrible buzzing sound and before long another of my family slowly crashed to the ground making an equally terrible wood splitting sound and sometimes taking with them a smaller neighbor unluckily in the wrong place. The attack by the buzzing creatures seemed to be on the largest of us. This genocide lasted for decades upon decades.  Massive holes in the canopy blotched the landscape with brown earth. Dignified lives literally cut short.

We had been accustomed to the occasional falling of a brother at the hands of humans but these humans were different. The humans of the past took only what they needed from the forest be it deer, raccoon, or tree and we all lived in a symbiotic balance with one another and they rarely if ever took one of the giants. Falling a few trees here and there does no harm to the forest, in fact it allows the suns light to reach the next generation and sprout new life. But if too many are taken from any species, plant or animal, in a short time span, that species may be lost to the world forever. In my life I have been witness to some forest creatures that are no longer here. Some were lost because they were unable to cope with the ever changing conditions of nature. Some were lost to man.

Just when we thought we were going to be the next species to be eradicated from the face of the earth we got and unlikely ally. Man. Not exactly like the ones from the past who respected us but it was obvious that they cared. These men did not dwell in the forest like the tribes of past times. They only came to our aid when the other men came to cut us down. They would stand between the cutters and the trees sometimes enduring great physical abuse to save us. They would climb high in our branches and stay for weeks or months because the other men would not cut down a tree if it meant killing another man. The cutters would occasionally beat our helpers but not kill them. The only things they killed were forest creatures and trees. Soon came the watchers. These were men who came to watch the battles between the cutters and the helpers. The watchers brought even more watchers, some sided with the cutters and some with the helpers. I think most of them wanted the cutters to stop and let us live as we have for so long. By the time the watchers and the helpers pushed back the cutters, though, the forest was in a state of devastation. The landscape was bare and ugly. With so many trees removed from the forest there were thousands of animals without homes. Some of the misplaced creatures would not survive for long without shelter because fewer trees also means less shade on the ground to protect the sensitive ones.

Fortunately for all of us that the men who are the cutters changed their ways. They still cut down trees but not as many as often. And now they also plant baby trees in place of the ones they cut down. The bare brown earth began to be replaced by green. So I find now that I am an elder in a very old forest filled with an abundance of young trees. I am the tallest and the oldest for miles. I watch over the forest and every year I drop my seeds to the ground and hope that they find a ray of life giving sunlight as I once did. In my youth I thought that I was invincible and nothing could harm me. I was a mighty Sequoia Redwood. Now I am a mighty, but humble, Redwood. I always knew that we are all vulnerable to Mother Nature but now I know that something as tiny a human being can devastate the whole planet. I only hope that the cutters of the world are balanced by the helpers.

Rapid Mortality

The water ran cold and swift on the south fork of the American River. Snow run-off from the Sierra Nevada Mountains made icy rapids that taunted us at the river’s edge. On a bright Saturday morning the river teamed with kayaks and rafts and was lined with spectators clinging to the rocks. People waded in calm pools along the river’s length and pelted their enemies with torrents of water squirted from toy guns. Photographers, perched high on the rocky banks, captured the battles between rafter and river on film to be sold to the survivors.rafting

As we carried the raft above our heads to the water’s edge I felt a curious sensation in the pit of my stomach. This was not my first trip on the white waters but for some reason that I couldn’t explain this time was different. There were eight of us in my raft including the guide, a robust young woman who in the off season worked as a rescue diver. I was hoping none of us would need her off season skills on this venture. I couldn’t help, though, reflecting on the waiver of liability for accidental death that the rafting company made us sign before departure, along with our sandwich choice for the mid-trip lunch they provide.

Having defeated rapid after rapid with such colorful names as “Hospital Bar” and “Barking Dog” there were only two left until total victory but they were near the end of the trip and we enjoyed calm waters for a while until then. The water was calm, the rafters were not. This was the time for war on the river. Water cannons of every size and configuration appeared and unleashed their fury. Arcs of water crisscrossed the sky in all directions. One boat even fired pre-loaded water balloons (How did they survive the rapids?). No one was safe. It was blissful chaos with every boat being its own navy attacking whomever was in range. And who knew the handle of an oar made a perfect grappling hook to snatch an opponent out of his battle ship by the straps of his life vest? I learned quickly not to squirt an experienced guide in the face (they generally leave the water play to the paying customers), and then turn your back on him. He hooked me like a trout and pulled me right off my raft before I knew what happened. Down but not out, I was rescued by my crew to fight again.

With the war over it was time to face the last of the rapids. I sat at the rear of the raft with the guide on my right. Because these last two rapids were small by comparison she decided to “swim” this one. I wasn’t sure what that meant until she leaned back and slipped out of the raft like a SCUBA diver. Unfortunately I was not prepared for the sudden increase in buoyancy on her side of the raft that made my side dip down and expel me backward into the water. When I realized what had happened I was upside down under water and out of breath. Without her guidance the raft veered left with the current and slammed into a boulder that breached the water’s surface. My watery world moved in slow motion. Stay calm. Think. Somehow I managed to right myself but I still had only a normal lung full of air not the deep breath you would take before plunging into the water. And before my life jacket could perform its duty I was also pinned to the boulder by the current with a raft full of people above me. I could see the surface which looked within reach and yet unreachable. I pawed my way across the bottom of the raft until I reached the edge and popped up above the water. The next thing I knew I was back inside the raft. A fellow crewman had hoisted me aboard much to my relief. I didn’t notice that I had lost my paddle until someone from the raft behind ours tossed it to me as they passed by laughing. The ordeal lasted only seconds but had it been any longer I would have started to see my life flash before me.

Natural Disasters

Tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and earthquakes all can seem like the wrath of God to those who witness their destruction from a far. Pure evil to those who survive them and must deal with the devastation left in their wake. I don’t claim to have lived through a natural disaster or even witnessed one from a far, except on TV, but having lived in California my entire life I have danced with the occasional earthquake. But when I see the destruction that wind can unleash I can’t help but feel a little lucky. Not just lucky to not have been there, but lucky that I have not had to endure the aftermath of it all. Grief for the fallen, the displaced, the injured, and the alone. Lucky not to know what it is like to have your whole world literally in ruins.

I imagined: Waking up to roaring thunder and flashes of lightening that illuminates my bedroom. A storm is coming. I turn on the local news for details only to find that my life may be changing soon. A twister has touched down two counties away and is hop-scotching its way here.Screenshot_2013-05-24-22-57-13

I hurry outside to secure the storm shutters. The rain is heavy and the thunder is loud. I didn’t realize just how many windows there were until now. Back inside, my wife and I warm ourselves with coffee and flip between the local news and the national weather channels. This is real! An F-4 and expected to grow. We decide to head down into the basement, the safest place in the house to be if the worst should happen.

Even in the basement we could hear the rain pounding harder and harder and the wind howling as it grew closer. The speckling of debris against the house was a terrifying gage to judge the storm’s proximity. Not just the house but the earth began to tremble as if a freight train was running through my house. We huddle in a corner and plead with God for our lives and our home and for the wellbeing of the whole community but we are interrupted by what I can only describe as our house exploding around us. This is that serene moment when you except your fate and prepare to die. Time crawls and what is in reality only a few seconds, seems to never end. The tremendous noise and destruction around you seem to fade into oblivion as you await the inevitable.

I wake up this time to silence. I cannot move or see anything except a small blotch of sun light that must be coming from above. The tornado has moved on to destroy lives in another town. It’s cold. I’m wet. I can taste blood in my mouth. Where is my wife? Pain is the last sense to come online. I think my arm is broken. Where is my wife? I muster up the strength to call her name. Nothing. Have I lost my beautiful wife along with our home to this monster? Why could it not have been me instead? Will someone come and rescue me or will I slowly starve to death buried in what used to be my basement? Am I even still in my basement? I have heard stories of people being carried away by the fierce winds of a tornado. Is this punishment for my sins? I can do nothing but sit helpless and evaluate my life and hope and pray that this is not as bad as it seems to me now but I know that in all likelihood it’s much worse.

I hear something moving nearby. I call her name again. My wife moans and answer. She’s alive! No matter what else the storm has taken from me it did not take my wife. No matter the devastation to ourselves, our home, or our town, we are alive and will get through this disaster. I call for her to come to me but she cannot. We are trapped not five feet apart but I cannot see her. We take comfort in that we are together and we know it’s only a matter of time until someone comes looking for survivors.

Almost forty-eight hours had passed, pinned in the most awkward position possible, before we could hear the rescue party in the distance. We held each other emotionally and cried because we knew that the two day long nightmare was coming to an end. We gathered strength from somewhere we could not fathom and called for help until a rescue dog heard us. I was never so pleased to hear a barking dog in all my life. Freed from a brief stint in our own personal purgatory, the devastation that was left in the wake of the storm incomprehensible. Not a house, nor tree, was left standing. We were among the fortunate to have only lost things. Corpses being dragged from beneath rubble made that very clear. Neighbors were sifting through trash heaps that used to be their homes while clinging to bits of their former lives.

Some would clean up, rebuild, and move on while others would relocate to where the windy monster does not feed. But there are few places on earth without some form of natural disaster. We live in Tornado Alley, atop seismic faults, and at the bases of volcanoes. We are aware of the pending danger and do our best to prepare and prevent but in the end we are all subject to her wrath. We take what Mother Nature throws at us. We learn from it and we get stronger. Most of us will never know her wrath first hand but those who live through it will forever be changed by it. The rest of us lucky enough to miss the destructive power of Mother Nature should be ready to lend a hand, or a dollar, at a moment’s notice when she strikes the less fortunate. It could be you or someone you love.