Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Interpreting the Big Trees: rambling among giants.

When my friend Faith asked if I would take some photos of the Giant Sequoias at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, there was only one answer: YEAH! That was familiar ground. In college I spent three summers on a fuels management crew in this area, up in the western Sierra, half way between Yosemite and Tahoe. It had been years since I'd been back, so I was excited to have an excuse.
Faith Rumm is one of those people who never cease to amaze you, even as you get to know them more and more. Formerly a back-country ranger in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park, she "gets it" when it comes to how badly we need to preserve wild places. In addition to being an inspirational mother, she is an accomplished artist who has painted and designed interpretive nature panels for many organizations including the Panda Bear Preserve in China. I've had the fortune to help her out with a few projects over the years and am delighted to provide my assistance on one of her current projects designing interpretive panels for California State Parks.
Many of my favorite places to photograph and rock-climb lie within Califoria's State Park System, and it is no wonder. A quick look at the State Park website ( reveals that the system includes "nearly 1.4 million acres, with over 280 miles of coastline; (and) 625 miles of lake and river frontage." With the rapid increases in development, urban sprawl and intrusion into open spaces which we've seen just in my short lifetime (34 years), I fear for the future of wilderness. Sure, nature adapts. Peregrines live on downtown sky scrapers and raccoons live under my deck, but is it their job to adapt? No! We have a responsibility to be stewards of the land, and that includes accounting for the plants and critters. If we had the hindsight of just one of the Big Trees, chances are we would assign very different priorities to our lives and make more sustainable decisions.No amount of watching Planet Earth can replace the experience of actually seeing the autumn bird migration, or hiking along a gurgling brook filled with spawning salmon. I grew up camping in our state parks and hope to (some day) take my own kids to them. But with California's budget shortfalls and a governator who is willing to shut down our parks to save costs, it is more imperative than ever that both the park system and nature itself have active and vocal advocates.
I drove up to the Big Trees just after our epic on El Cap in May and spent three days roaming the woods and river making photographs among these stunningly enormous giants. The weather was perfect after a few storms during which an inch and a half of rain fell. One of the best parts of my job is just being out there getting "zen-ed out" with my camera, exploring the intricacies of an eco-system and finding a voice for Mother Earth. No, I'm not a barefoot tree hugger. A balance must be struck in all things, but it sure feels right to be making images that will go to work for a just cause.
As I drove home from the Big Trees I passed through hundreds of miles of urban jungle and pondered how the landscape would have appeared prior to our intrusion. I drove through the East Bay and recalled a passage from Malcom Margolin's "The Ohlone Way" in which he states that the number one cause of death for the native Ohlone tribe of native Americans along the San Franciso Bay prior to white settlement was from grizzly bear attacks! Grizzly bears! He described the wildlife-filled bay as a veritable Serengeti. It will of course never revert back to what it was. Our "progress" is deep and permanent. Even the seemingly pristine stretch of the Stanislaus River I had been photographing that morning is but an illusion of natural tranquility.
The water level is carefully controlled from the dam at Spicer Reservoir to give optimum amounts of power and water to the thirsty valley below. I went fishing for several hours and never saw a single fish.
It's a tough world for optimists and idealists, but you must have hope in something. I hope more people will kill the TV, go for a hike, take a dip in a remote swimming hole, and enjoy a sunset from a high mountaintop. It's the best program they'll ever see, and who knows, perhaps they might run across one of Faith's beautiful interpretive panels and learn something new.

Check out Faith's work:

Motivate. Instigate.

-Jerry Dodrill

1 comment:

Cole's Trail Tales said...

Looks like a great trip. Timed nicely with the blooming dogwood.
I couldn't agree more that nature is in need of some serious advocates and I commend you on your efforts.