This is a short essay I found while going through the folders on my computer:
Big Tree. It seems a rather simplistic name for such an impressive thing, but in the end, it’s the name that fits. Sequoiadendron giganteum is scientifically precise, but lacks warmth. It’s too clinical, too much of an artificial designation. Sequoia is better, but what does a Cherokee have to do with trees that he never saw? Better if they were named for a chief or tribe native to California. Mountain redwood is just wrong. Although their wood is red, and they are related to the coast redwood, these trees are something else altogether. They are not trees with red wood or even trees with red wood that grow in the mountains. What they are is Big. Bigger than any other living being that has every lived on this planet. This is what strikes the first time observer, and what brings others back. These trees are Big. They are Big Trees.
Standing at the base of the General Sherman Tree, which is, as far as we can tell, the largest single living organism ever to grace our planet, it is not just his size that strikes you. You notice I said “his” size. That’s the point. These trees are individuals, and you have to think of them as such. Conifers do not have distinct sexes (unlike mulberries and holly, to cite two common examples), so I tend to assign gender tags to Big Trees based on their names or appearance. General Sherman is a he. The Three Graces are shes. It’s a subjective thing, and simply helps to emphasize the individuality of these wonderful trees.
Big Trees are the most Ent-like of all trees. If you remember your Tolkien, you know that Ents are giant tree-like creatures, very wise and very long-lived. Big Trees give the appearance of slumbering Ents. There is something there, beneath the great layers of bark, the crown of branches so far, far above.
If trees have consciousness, it is of a far slower, dreamier kind than that of animals. I imagine it to be somewhat like a person or other mammal in a coma, aware but unable to react in more than rudimentary ways. Do the trees hear out cars, our voices, our footsteps? Do they feel our hands touching them, or the squirrels as they run up the bark? We will probably never know, because there is no way to tell. To test an animal’s sense of hearing, we look for a reaction. Trees do not react. They simply accept.
If you don’t believe this, I suggest you go into a grove of Big Trees. Find a spot away from the crowds (but stay on the trail – Big Tree roots are shallow and fragile.) Stand or sit or lie down near the Big Tree. Look at him (or her). Listen. Think. Go up to the tree, if you can, and place your hand on the thick, soft bark. Push. Feel the spring in it. Now look up. Stop thinking. Just be there, with the tree. I think you’ll understand.