Regular readers know that I enjoy reading children’s books. Recently, I read one called, A Curvy Tree, that examines the problems of being different and lonely. In the book, a curvy tree soothes the feeling of a lonely child being teased for being different by taking its own example, and how being different saved its life, for loggers could not find a use for twisted wood, and therefore left it alone. When the girl asked whether the tree felt lonely, the curvy tree lifted her up high on its branches to show her other curvy trees in the distance all left alone by loggers, and on top of these trees were other children probably equally lonely who only need to find each other for company.
Looking at the bristlecone forest, it seems that the Bristlecone trees, followed a similar path for survival. Hardy beings that only thrive in harsh climatic conditions, there is yet another lesson from nature in these forests: It is okay to be different.
As the car nosed its way up to the Bristlecone National Forest, I was peeking into a copy of ‘Into Thin Air’. It was snug inside the car, though the temperatures outside were steadily climbing down as the car climbed up. Reading about the Himalayan expedition to climb the Mount Everest that went awry was humbling and an apt read at high altitude.
No amount of pictures or descriptive writing can do justice to the feeling of being among the oldest known living beings in the World. Looking at the shapes of each of these trees, it was easy to let our imaginations run in wild directions. Each tree was shaped like a fantastic creature and one could well imagine them lending support to each other and sustaining their lives through the fury of nature and the upheavals of time. Each one probably gets themselves up every now and then and transforms their shapes, and each has a spirit of their own that lends a character to their surroundings. Maybe these are the hieroglyphics of the universe that hold answers to the questions deeper than mankind can ever think off, and we don’t yet know. Even in our wildest imaginations, we are constrained by our limited intelligence and the expanses of our problems, including those we manage to create for ourselves.
The walk amidst the ancient bristlecone forest was our first high altitude hike as a family – The toddler son was wearing his new snow boots, and was behaving like John Muir in them. He thumped up and down exploring the hauntingly beautiful bristlecone trees, looking curious and wondering how they could be older than his grandfather. “Not just your grandfather little Dobucles, “, said his older sister in a tone of voice she uses to enlighten her lil brother of the ways of the world, “but your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s….”
I let him wander on looking amused, till some gusts of wind buffeted us. On a high mountainside, a gush of wind is enough to topple toddlers as I well know from experience. I was not even a toddler when I was blown off by the wind, I was in a respectable third grade when that happened. I injected a note of caution into the proceedings by reigning the toddler in only to have the daughter scoff that adults are paranoid. This is where ‘Into Thin Air’ helped me. I told her about how many people have gone within 300 m of the great Himalayan peak only to return because the elements would not allow them to proceed. I tried my best to describe how nature can be awe-inspiring but how in one moment we can be reduced from arrogant, competent, self sufficient humans to ones thrown about at the behest of nature. I don’t think I succeeded very much, and so nature decided on showing us herself the very next day.
Somehow, with the sun throwing brilliant purple, orange and pink patterns into the sky, the wind gently rustling the hair peeking out from under our caps, and the bristlecone trees lending an almost immutable background, the scenario of a snow storm seemed far-fetched, almost ludicrous. If this is high altitude, how bad can Everest be? seemed to be the general consensus. That night, we bravely attempted hikes at 21,000 feet, safe in the comforts of modern housing while eating hot biriyani.