Janet was the original climber of General Sherman, a giant sequoia that is, by volume, the “largest known living single-stem tree on Earth.” Janet had lived in Tulare County, CA since she was born. She grew up five minutes away from the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park. As soon as she could ride a bike without training wheels, Janet began visiting the trees there. General Sherman had always been Janet’s favorite, and the general was impeccably gracious in allowing the small girl to navigate his branches.
As a teenager, some of Janet’s braver friends climbed with her. When they reached age 18 they could make it to the crown of General Sherman’s head. Soon they brought hammocks and would sleep in his woody arms.
When Janet left for college, she hugged General Sherman and told him she would miss him.
As way often leads to way, Janet moved to the east coast after college and marriage, to her husband’s home town. As Janet was an only child, her parents followed her a few years later.
Forty years passed, and Janet decided to take a trip back to CA to visit her favorite friends, the Sequoias. Some had passed on, but there were new trees to take their places. General Sherman stood apart from his deep green surroundings, his ancient bark glowing in the morning sun. Tears sprang to Janet’s eyes as she opened her climbing pack. She couldn’t wait to climb her old friend’s bark. She could feel the tree smiling. He recognized her!
Janet wasn’t as limber as she had been forty years ago, but she was still physically fit. She made it to the lowest limbs with some effort, then decided to rest up for the next leg of the journey up. She sipped herbal tea from her bottle and looked around, feeling so small among the magnificence of these royalty of the land.
After feeling rested, Janet resumed her climb. The morning mist made the General’s bark slippery in places. At 175 feet up, Janet’s foot hit a slick spot and her jacket snagged on a protruding branch. She scrambled to regain balance and in a freakish mistake let go of the rope. Janet tumbled from branch to branch on her way down, much as a rag doll that has been thrown down a flight of stairs. There was something poetic about it.
Her crumpled form lay at the feet of General Sherman. He and the others regarded her inert body with regret, as they were gentle creatures. Soon Janet would join them in the forest, rich humus for their hungry roots.