Beetle Rock is a shelf of stone in the California Sierra with a huge tree of fairy-tale dimensions guarding it and members of the tree’s kin lurking large in the shadows. It lies over one mile up in the air at the end of half an hour of twisting ascent, where the road flattens into a parking area and museum and a short trail runs near a nature center. The tree is a Sequoia.
This Sequoia, in Sequoia National Park near Fresno, is among the most accessible specimens of the tree for tourists. It stands mere yards from the parking lot, at the edge of a scenic view, overseeing thousands of camera shots each summer.
Sequoia trees are orange columns of wood, lonely cathedral pillars likely to outlast America as they outlasted the Old and New Testaments, because these trees live to be 5,000 years old and simply fall over rather than dying of disease. The Indians revered their temple-like forms and passed this high regard on to us; and though our 150 years of acquaintance have enlightened us as to their ecological role in stabilizing the high country forest, we still sense some undefined function that reflects their indefinite lifespans.
Is it a climatic role? Do the trees, which resist fire, enforce a boundary between the forested Sierra of northern California and the dessicated barrenness of the southern California mountains, preserving an historic weather pattern and enabling evolution?
Is it a global role? Are they a relic of the longed-for era of humanity free of disease, when each life constituted a truly complete cycle?
The trees at Beetle Rock will live for thousands of years, then stand laughing at the lesser trees around them and simply topple over. They will live a good life and maybe furnish us with a guide as to how our own should be lived — elevated and peacefully.