Strange Truths About Big Trees
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THAT "truth is stranger than fiction" is a trite saying, but is one which is particularly apt to come into one's head during a discussion of the great trees of California. If a man had tried, one hundred years ago, to tell an outrageous yarn concerning trees, the size of the trees to be found in some abode of giants, it is altogether doubtful if his figures would have been larger than those which actually represent the size of the great sequoias. And it is certain that his story would not have been more discredited than was the story of A. T. Dowd, the man who first discovered what is now known as the Calaveras grove, and told the simple truth about his discovery.
And we can hardly wonder that he was placed side by side with Baron Munchausen as an inventor of big yarns, when we know the story he told to people who had seen only ordinary trees. He told them that while in pursuit of a wounded bear, he found himself at nightfall in a dark forest. The air was dry and warm, and being weary, he stretched himself on the ground and went to sleep. He awoke about daylight, and when he saw the kind of forest he was in, he rubbed his eyes and pinched himself to make sure he was not dreaming.
He saw all about him monster trees, such as no man had ever seen before. They reared their heads, seemingly into the blue sky, and their enormous trunks, bright cinnamon in color, seamed and ribbed, arose like mighty fluted pillars. The hunter felt as Gulliver felt in Brobdingnag, and half expected to see the huge forms of giants come striding through the wood. He knew that if the tallest church of his native town were set down here, the cross on the pinnacle of its spire would be shaded by the branches as would a doll's house beneath a maple.
He arose, and walked up to one of the trees, spread his arms around it as far as they would go. Then he moved sidewise, placing his left fingers where his right hand had been. He repeated this again and again, and found that he had to do it twenty times before he could circle the trunk. He looked up and saw that many of the branches were from three to seven feet in diameter; that there were no end of smaller ones that were as big as ordinary trees, and he figured that if all those branches were cut off close to the trunk and set in the ground he would have a good-sized forest of big timber.
Well, when he got back to civilization and sprung this yarn on his fellow-townsmen, they admitted they had heard liars before, but that the very biggest liar they had ever heard was a George Washington compared with Dowd.
As a matter of fact, his stories were much less wonderful than the trees themselves. It is almost impossible to comprehend how impressive these giants are without actually seeing them, but some idea of their size may be had by comparing them with things of everyday life. We have all more or less of an idea of the great height of the Flatiron Building in New York City. If a giant sequoia were transplanted to the corner of Broadway and Fifth Avenue, the roof of the tall building would be in shadow. More than that, if the tallest elm on Manhattan Island were set up on the roof of the "Flatiron" the upper branches of the big tree would shade the elm as well.
General Walteuffel stated some time ago, that if he could have had one of these big trees to throw across the Pei-ho River upon the arrival of the international army, it would have served as a bridge across which he could have marched the entire army of 30,000 men into Pekin in forty-five minutes.
But it is not their size alone which makes these great trees so impressive; their age is even more remarkable. We are often reminded of the great antiquity of the pyramid of Cheops; yet when the great army of 100,000 men began work on that edifice, 2,000 years before Christ, the great sequoias were already older than the pyramid is to-day; they had battled with the elements for probably at least 4,000 years. They are today the very oldest living things on the face of this earth. And Americans should regard them as a priceless heritage, which once taken from them could never be replaced, and they should at any cost guard them forever from those who with axe and saw would in one week destroy the work of 8,000 years.