Read Caption
The trail that leads to "General Sherman" (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

The Pursuit of Happiness: Sequoia Style

“To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”Kurt Vonnegut

I arrived in Sequoia National Park on a personal quest.

I had heard about a grove of trees within the Giant Forest that had been dedicated to National Geographic a long way back. As the story goes, Stephen Mather, head of the newly established National Park Service, was on a quest of his own — to secure full protection for the acres that comprise the Giant Forest. Most people assumed the trees there were already safe, but the land was “patented,” which meant that private landowners could open it up to logging if they wanted.

View Images
The “General” is tall at 245 feet, but not the tallest tree in the world. (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

Mather succeeded in securing from Congress a litte over 70 percent of the funding needed to move forward with the buy in 1916. Without the full amount, the forest was as vulnerable as ever. He turned to Interior Secretary Franklin K. Lane, who happened to sit on National Geographic’s board of managers, for help. Moved by the story, the Society decided to issue a grant for the remaining money. To show his gratitude, Mather named a section of the forest “the National Geographic Grove.”

So, to commemorate the Society’s 125th anniversary and to pay homage to an organization that has added so much to my life, I was on a mission to track down the grove that had been dedicated in its name.

What does this have to do with health and wellness, you might ask?

Good question. Like many people I know, I have been drawn to the glossy images hidden between the covers of the Big Yellow Border Magazine for as long as I can remember. Images full of impossible and heartbreaking beauty that told stories of places, people, and wildlife on the other side of the world. It blew my mind. This awe eventually bloomed into a desire to tell those kinds of stories myself. I never imagined that one day I’d doing it for the organization that sparked my curiosity about the planet.

Though I’ve followed a winding road to get here (literally), my passion for storytelling is what keeps me healthy and connected. Though I was hard pressed to find scientific evidence to back up my hunch (if you know of any please share!), I think most of us can say that we feel most alive when we are doing what we love. That’s why finding the grove meant so much.

So off I went, first to “General Sherman,” the largest living tree in the world (by volume), and the rest of the Congress Trail. I tipped my hat to the general, and to the “President,” too (which reminded of a great story I had read about the massive tree in National Geographic Magazine last year), but couldn’t find the grove or any hint of where it might be.

View Images
The needle in the haystack! (Photograph by Shannon Switzer)

As luck would have it, just as I was about to give up on my quest, I bumped into a ranger and asked if she was at all familiar with the grove. “Oh, yeah,” she said after a thoughtful pause. “I think that’s over by Round Meadow along the Big Tree Trail. I believe there’s a plaque and everything.”

It was getting dark, but I was determined to find it. I hopped in Max, as I’d come to call the Ford C-MAX hybrid that has been my faithful companion for the past thousand miles, and zoomed down the road. When I arrived at the beginning of the Big Tree Trail, I could barely see my hand in front of my face, but I decided to start walking anyway. But after a few painful stumbles over rocks and roots, I decided it was a better idea to return in the morning.

I combed the Big Meadow for the grove, but, even with the sunshine on my side, it seemed like another fruitless mission.

But then, my eureka moment came. A simple brass plaque that blended seamlessly within the cathedral of trees.

Reading it, I learned there was not one, but five dedicated groves throughout the Giant Forest. The words on the plaque made me proud to — in my own small way — be involved with National Geographic. As I stood there looking up at the ancient trees, I went over the list of passionate people I’ve gotten to know there over the years who have inspired me to keep on trucking down the road to wellness — for the sake of my own health and for the health of the planet as a whole.