Walking through Stump Meadow like a cemetery

Stump Meadow is in Converse Basin in Kings Canyon National Park and one of the saddest sights anywhere in a national forest.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks east of Fresno are favorite mountain destinations. Regardless of how many times I visit Grant Grove and stand before the General Grant tree and its many giant neighbors, it is always a chilling experience. These giant Sequoias are among the oldest living things on earth, many having sprouted before the time of Christ. Mature sequoias are 3,500-years old — perhaps older.

They are so huge it is impossible to comprehend their size, even while gazing in awe at them.

Not long ago on a re-visit to the giant sequoias, a sign pointed to Stump Meadow and Converse Basin down a dirt road. Curiosity drew us down it. Driving slowly, hundreds of darkened stumps dotting the forest floor became increasingly noticeable. The forest was lush green, however, the blackened stumps began to dominate the mind's eye…and then Stump Meadow appeared. Unlike the tree-filled mountainsides, there are no living trees in the meadow, only massive sequoia tombstones.

There is an ominous, ghoulish silence about the meadow of giant stumps. With no other people or vehicles to muffle the deafening silence, it is a tearfully sad view. It is like visiting a historical battleground. Cannons and rifles long ago stopped firing, but if you quietly listen you can almost hear battle sounds. The pounding sounds of steam-powered engines, clanking trucks and rasping of giant bucksaws silently reverberate through Stump Meadow.

It is disheartening to count the dozens of giants, which once soared hundreds of feet almost blocking out the azure blue Sierra Nevada sky. Walking among the stumps is like meandering through a cemetery. Look, but don't touch. Touching was somehow disrespectful of their passing.

The blackness of the stumps, scared by fires since they were felled more than 100 years ago, make the scene ghostly and foreboding. Natural tannins in the ancient sequoias make the wood resistant to decay. It is like they continue to struggle against extinction, even in death.

Then the question: why such wanton destruction? From 1887 until 1908, Converse Basin was virtually stripped bare of giant sequoias. It is ironic that one of the largest trees in the grove was spared, named “Boole” for Frank Boole, general manager of the Sanger Lumber Co., one of the logging companies responsible for the massive clear cutting. It is the third largest sequoia known to exist. It is 269 feet high, 112 feet in circumference and 35 feet in base diameter and a reminder of just how large those giants were that crashed to the forest floor more than a century ago, often shattering into pieces making them useless for lumber.

Did the men who felled the giants understand what they were doing? Probably not, or they surely would have left more sequoias for generations to see.

It was a different era in California's Gold Rush days after 1849. California was booming and there was wealth for those rugged and resourceful enough to claim California's natural wealth. Lumber was one of those.

Ironically, however, lumber operations in what is now Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks never were profitable because the trees were too large to log economically.

The Forest Service and National Park Service have done a remarkable job reforesting Sequoia and Kings Canyon. The scars will become less visible with each generation.

Certainly today's lumbermen do a better job of managing forests, which are a continually renewable resource of lumber for Americans. Stump Meadow will remain for generations a reminder of the importance of wise resource management.

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