14 July 2015 – 30 hour layover Fresno:
I began the day testing the workings of the top down rented convertible with giant sunglasses perched on my nose, a makeshift multi-colored, outdoorsy outfit, roadside convenience store hoagie and snacks occupying the passenger seat next to me and the thought occurred to me that I had finally morphed into a mid-life cliché. I smiled at the thought and lifted one hand above the windshield letting the passing air push through and against my raised arm confirming the transformation.
I was heading on 180 East, just leaving the borders of Fresno, California. Field after field was filled with hundreds of Mexican laborers under brightly hued umbrellas harvesting the fruit of our nation. A stark contrast to the dried by drought grasses. You could smell the heated soil, mixed with perspiration, and as I bit into my portion of the bounty I could taste the warm salty residue of human sweat.
Gaining altitude I could feel the change in temperature, hear and witness entering into a new ecosystem. Agricultural to alpine. I made it to the entrance of King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. Heartbeat quickening. I love the aesthetic of National Parks. The brown ranger uniforms, the font of the carved letters on wooden signs, the “make-work” stone-stacked road retaining walls. I become a eager socialist. There are rules and guidelines marking the roads and trails. Everyone seems to be a willing participant for the greater good of preserving and keeping the parks “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
I pulled into the little parking lot and was dwarfed by a grove of the massive trees. I sat at the base of one propping myself against the fence and ate lunch peeking up through the branches between bites at the speckled sun. It seemed so far away.
I then made my way to visit General Sherman. Reportedly the largest living tree by volume in the world. General Sherman is the star of the park and the trail leading to the base is crowded with a multicultural mix of ages and languages. The sounds bounce and mingle together in the maze created in Giant Forest, a moniker given by John Muir describing the boundaries where these mighty giants grow. It’s hard to take in the entire tree in one full view. Humbling to see how small we are.
My last stop, late in the day, is Crescent Meadow. I pull into the parking lot and there are people excitedly standing around with cameras poised on the same spot. A bear is tearing apart a log is search of grubs. He is shaggy yet powerful. I park the car and walk toward the gathering, but turn back and put the top up on the convertible. Although my food is locked in the trunk have no intention of returning the car with a bear claw tear on the upholstery. I watch fascinated, with the group before heading out to hike around the meadow.
The meadow is beautiful in the late summer sun. Flowers and butterflies are outlined in the streaming sunlight. I am close to the parking lot, but alone on the trail. I can hear people at moments between the chorus of birdsong. I run into a group of young adults who say they have just seen three bears further on up the trail. They leave me to walk the other direction and I keep going. I sit to take in the impressiveness of the whole scene. After a few minutes of calm contemplation I jump up to swat away mosquitoes and an aggressive bee. In the midst of my dance I hear a distinct “huff” and slowly turn around and see a black, black bear munching on grasses not twenty yards from me. My mind went blank. I soon started singing and talking out loud to myself to let him know I was near. I watched him for the longest time and then made my way back in the direction I came from.
I noticed a couple on a standing on fallen log and went around a standing tree to tell them about the bear. Again, I hear the “huff” and I shout, “Oh, you’re looking at a bear” And again a brown, black bear is close to the tree. I backed away and climbed up on the log with them – with them in front of me of course.
I walked back to the parking lot and met up with the young adults again. They were adorable kids from Modesto, who like me, had never been to Sequoia. And they had never seen a bear. I related to their enthusiasm. As I was driving out of the park I hear someone calling, “Hey lady, our friend in the convertible” And there they were standing on top of an enormous log waving enthusiastically at me.
Another bear crossed the road as I was driving out. I saw SEVEN bears in the course of three hours. Unbelievable. I headed west toward Fresno. The temperature and landscape changing in reverse order.
It was dark when I drove into Fresno. I stopped at a gas station near the airport. The air was heated and dense even without the sun. It stood still in stark contrast to the musical fresh cooled air on the mountain. I stepped out of the convertible to fill the tank. A low-rider playing throbbing music that shook the stale air slowly drove by. The rough-looking young man driving stopped his car when he was next to mine and made a slight head nod acknowledging me. I returned the gesture and off he went in a pulsating, rhythmic exit.