Three graces


Groups of two or three of these grand trees are often found standing close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a former generation. These patches of fresh, mellow soil beside the upturned roots of the fallen giant may be from forty to sixty feet wide, and they are speedily occupied by seedlings. Out of these seedling-thickets perhaps two or three may become trees, forming those close groups called “three graces,” “loving couples,” etc. For even supposing that the trees should stand twenty or thirty feet apart while young, by the time they are full-grown their trunks will touch and crowd against each other and even appear as one in some cases. – John Muir, The Mountains of California.

My sister took this picture in King’s Canyon National Park exactly one month ago, somewhere close to the General Grant tree. It is a strange thing, that even when faced with a large number of these bizarrely large trees, the experience never becomes repetitive. Each tree – and this is especially true of the sequoias in the monarch stage – gives one an impression of incredible stillness. It was sobering for me to think that these trees were around when Ceasar lorded over Rome, when the Benedictine monks were beginning to aggregate the wisdom of the world, when even the words I employ to think about them had not yet been spoken.

For all their tremendous girth, not one of them appears clumsy, and I think this has to do not so much with their absolute height, but with the fact that the mature trees have shed almost all of their lower branches, and that the width of the tree does not change too much until about a hundred feet up. This gives the lower portion the appearance of a vertical shaft, which compensates for the great width and gives them a sort of nonchalant shapeliness. It is only by looking around at the younger thinner punier plants around the sequoia that one is reminded of its gargantuan size. I remember thinking that a whale might fit easily inside the main trunk. Looking at these giants soaring to more than two hundred feet, it still seems unbelievable to me that their roots do not penetrate more than four or five feet below the surface. What grasping power they must have to be able to support so much weight with so little soil!

2 thoughts on “Three graces”

  1. Amazing indeed. Though, if you go to Kings Canyon/Sequoia do try to spend more than a day there. We had to bypass the limestone caves and everything else that was far from General’s Highway in order to make sure that we were out and driving back before sundown.

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