My truck wasn’t happy driving up to 11,000 ft elevation in California’s White Mountains. The air was thin and I guess the onboard computers weren’t programmed to add more oxygen to the fuel. We were crawling up in third gear, which was pathetic for a V6 engine, but at least it is a funny memory and we got to enjoy the scenery. And the reward was worth the effort.
I had heard about bristlecone pines in my high school wood shop. The instructor had a newspaper clipping story about these amazing trees capable of surviving more than 5,000 years, twisted and gnarled, often with just one branch clinging to life. I made a mental note to see them someday. Some 15 years later, here we were, slowly scrambling to the top.
At the end of the road, maybe an hour before the sun would sink below the magnificent peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west, we put on our winter coats and hats and got to admiring these absolutely gorgeous trees. It was a humbling experience to see these twisted beings clinging to life in poor rocky soil. And yet, they were given the strength to survive and to bring absolute joy to the admirer.
John Muir put it eloquently: “While on the roughest ledges of crumbling limestone are lowly old giants, five or six feet in diameter that have braved the storms of more than a thousand years. But whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever found to be irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen.”
Once the sun disappeared for the day I noticed clouds swirling, appearing from thin air and blushing with color. That was unexpected considering the day was graced by clear blue skies. I immediately changed my focus and we tried to run around at the 11,000 ft elevation looking for a strong composition…huffing and puffing and feeling like we’d collapse from lack of air.
Now, 13 years later, the memory of this place is almost as clear as was the mountain air….
Reaching bristlecone pines and fiery sunset sky | White Mountains, CA
Another place that is dear to us is the Columbia Gorge, along the border of Washington and Oregon. It is a place shaped by the fires of ancient volcanos, a place of amazing raw beauty. Despite all the basalt rock, life clings seemingly with much joy.
I spotted the gorgeous color of these penstemon flowers, growing at the base of a crumbling basalt cliff, through thick oak trees and poison oak shrubs. It took a little doing to crawl in there but it was worth the effort.
With these two images and two drastically different regions, I am humbled to know that God planted the seeds of life from the highest mountains to the lowest deserts to the most arid places and the deepest oceans…just absolutely amazing.
Penstemon surviving among crumbling basalt | Columbia Gorge, WA