Go see St. Peter’s, said Kant, go see the Great Pyramid; he didn’t know about General Sherman, and I wonder what he would have said about General Sherman in our age of ordered sets, where you can’t look at the tree without the superadded knowledge that it is, provably, the world’s largest. It looked to me like the center of the world. I could believe there were gods in the canopy and an underworld in the roots, never mind that sequoias don’t have taproots and this is why they fall over after a few thousand years. We even had a Ratatoskr scrambling up and down the striations of the trunk, red sandstone tipped onto its side. On a fallen branch went walking the largest raven I ever saw in my life; apparently they vary with the trees. ‟Huginn? Muninn? Fly on up to the hall, will you, and tell them I’m still busy down here.”
The paved path around the tree was busy with people not speaking English, nations of the world come to pay court to the world tree by pointing their smartphones at it. The tree defeated them. Trying to get it in frame they backed farther and farther away until they were out of its compass entirely, and surrendered. It took a bit of work to find the unpaved trails, but once I found them I discovered that my body, which I tend to think of as a decaying jelly, is still perfectly able to get me up a mountain, even at seven thousand feet. Most of my three days in the mountains involved no one but me and
• white-headed woodpeckers,
• red-breasted sapsuckers,
• western tanagers,
• Steller’s jays,
• brown creepers,
inter alia. All the verticality and solitude called up Chinese paintings, and before you ask, yes I did bring A.C. Graham’s Poems of the Late T’ang in my pack; you take that book into the mountains so no one will laugh at you, as no one’s around to laugh at you hugging the trees. Graham’s preface is the best explanation I’ve seen of what one does in the course of ‟translating Chinese poetry,” and I recommend it to interested parties. A poem by Du Fu has no inflection and (compared to speech or prose) almost no particles, just parallel stacks of sense. Graham gives the sense character by character, alongside four different English versions doing as they can. What we really need for Tang poetry is something like the Quranic Arabic Corpus; it can’t be as hard a job with Arabic grammar out of the picture. A crib sheet, a few differing English versions—it would help one up the mountain.
At the top of the mountain is a fire lookout station. You can climb it and talk to the ranger with her binoculars and her radio. How’s the fire season look? Terrible, terrible, it’s been terrible the last three years. They say El Niño's brewing up this year in the Pacific, we just have to wait for it. Can you see Mount Whitney from here? No, it’s thirty-three miles that way as the crow flies. You can’t see it for the curve of the earth. Looking the other way you can barely see the coast range; the Central Valley is all haze. Up here the air is thin as a thought, a few cirrus clouds speed over your head, the ten thousand things are below and it turns out they’re all pines, you’ve gained all the altitude there is to gain, now what do you do with it?