Recent fires in California have devastated the more famous stands of sequoias, threatening even the largest of these magnificent trees. Thus a tree which was old before Jesus was born might perish, not just in my lifetime, but maybe this year or next.
The BBC article made me weep. In 1973 I visited the Californian redwoods national parks and state parks and saw the very trees described. There I hugged my first tree, in the days when tree hugging was not particularly fashionable, and Americans who got out of their cars to walk in the open air were a rarity.
In Sequoia National Park, I saw a host of redwoods, including the greatest: General Sherman. Some of them had been hollowed out by one of the countless forest fires these giants have endured in the past. Such hollows are known as goose-pens, that being what they were once used for.
I stood in the goose-pen of one of the larger specimens, determine to meditate and, if possible, commune with the tree. I was prepared to give it an hour or so, but everybody had to be out of the national park by sundown so I had one eye on my wristwatch.
I tried speaking to it in my mind, and in my mind it spoke back. It gave me to understand that if I was hoping to learn something to my advantage I was going to have to stand there a lot longer than I was planning.
Fancy that: being put down by a tree.
But I must have taken away something from that humbling encounter. Back in the 1970s I was a jet-setting plunderer of the Earth, commuting weekly across the Atlantic to help design yet one more blue box. I referred to rainforests as “jungle”, cloud forests like the sequoia stands I visited as “woods”, and trees that hadn’t been planted by human hand as “wooden weeds”. But from then on, the notion of Nature took root in my mind as a being, not just an interconnected mishmash of organisms.
A being that merited my calling it Mother.