Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bowing Before Nature

Daniel Cano

I try making it up (or down) to Kings Canyon and Sequoia every couple of years. I’ve been doing this since 1975 when my kids were still toddlers; though I may have gone as a child. Each year, my outdoorsman uncle, Mike, would take us into the mountains fishing, and we may have camped along the Kings River when my cousins and I were kids.

To reach the canyon, I first drive up from Fresno to Sequoia National Park, reach the 7500-foot level, and drop down into the canyon on a two-lane winding road as sheer canyon walls rise taller and appear to close in on me as I reach the canyon floor, where the wild Kings River tumbles outward, following its jagged path over waterfalls and through shale canyon walls on its way down into Kingsburg, crossing Highway 99, and filling the myriad of man-make canals, until it hits the All American Canal, which carries the icy water to the reservoirs, and into our homes, of course, with more complexity than I’ve described here.

A two-hour drive out of Kings Canyon to the east sits Sequoia National Park, home to the General Sherman tree, the oldest living creature in the world, and the largest, as well. Some scientists estimate that when Buddha and Jesus walked the earth, the General Sherman was already 1200 years old. Looking down a mountainside at the General Sherman, another mind-numbing sight unfolds before me, a near mystical experience, an entire forest of giant Sequoias.

The first time I stood under the massive arms of the General Sherman tree, I was eleven. My friends and I had joined the Boy Scouts, and to earn a merit badge, we had to hike into Sequoia’s backcountry for three days. For suburban kids, it was a humbling experience, trekking up to alpine lakes, cooking over an open fire, and sleeping in pup tents or beneath the stars.

I haven’t forgotten it, so each time I leave Kings Canyon, I take the long way across Sequoia, just so I can stand in the shade of the giant Sequoias, take in their energy, and listen to visitors from around the world “ooh” and “ahh” as they lift their heads to see into the branches, many the size of large city trees.
Sometimes I travel into the canyon with family or alone. This year I met my son, granddaughter, Celia, and my son’s friends, who stayed two days while I stayed a week. Once everyone has departed, I notice some campers who stare inquisitively at me, an elderly mestizo with a white beard and campesino hat, sitting alone in front of a campfire, stirring the embers with a long stick. I smile at them, but it’s only the flickering flames that burn my imagination. The crowds have grown and changed since 1973, a lot more raza crowding into the canyon, but the mountains and river have remained the same

I’ve travelled into the canyon to make some of the most important decisions of my life. Corny as it sounds, I’ve let the sounds of the warm wind, rustling leaves, and rushing water provide the answers I’ve sought. I sat on huge boulders beside the rambling river after I returned from Vietnam and needed mother nature’s purifying power to, if not heal me, at least offer a helping hand in my spiritual restoration.
This is my 70th birthday. I set up camp on a hill where I have a view of the solid rock canyon walls peeking through the tall pines and cedars. There I sit, sometimes for hours, and ponder God’s wonder. It’s difficult to be an atheist or agnostic before an artistic creation unimaginable by the human mind. Even our greatest art is but a bleak imitation compared to nature’s handiwork.

The greatest human minds, from our wise indigenous ancestors to the most ingenious among us, from Moctezuma to Sitting Bull and from Galileo to Einstein, bow before the Creator’s canvass. If I remember correctly, many of our greatest thinkers and artists admitted to rejecting theologians’ view of religion and God, but passionately believed in a higher power, a grand creator of the universe. How could I do any less.

Evening falls. Billions of stars appear. The wayward ones shoot across constellations and galaxies of which I possess little knowledge but an abundant appreciation. Tonight, they put on another dazzling performance.

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