Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "As Giants and Patriarchs"

This poem is spillover from the September 18, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mdlbear, [personal profile] erulisse, and[personal profile] siliconshaman. It also fills the "awe" square in my 9-1-18 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Big One thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It happens at the same time and fairly nearby the story "Poseidon Arises" by [personal profile] siliconshaman.

Warning: This poem features an earthquake, and while there is minimal damage locally there is much devastation elsewhere.

"As Giants and Patriarchs"

[Saturday, May 28, 2016]

Sienna Mullen strolled along Hillside Trail,
far enough from the Visitor Center of
Muir Woods that it wasn't too crowded,
even on a holiday weekend like today.

As she walked, the park ranger checked off
species of birds, mammals, insects, and
other wildlife with a smartphone app.

She reached the fork that marked
the entrance of Cathedral Grove,
one of her favorite places in the park,
and marked it with her GPS tracker.

Wildlife sightings were tagged with
their exact location, but the park
monitored named places to see
what kind of creatures they held.

The microhabitats were fascinating,
and she enjoyed looping off the trail
to explore the center of the grove.

"As giants and patriarchs of the forest
they stand alone," Sienna quoted reverently.
"The trees are grand without being oppressive;
noble but not arrogant; lords of the soil
that do not impoverish the land."

A motion ahead of her caught
her attention, and Sienna scrolled
through her mammal checklist to mark
Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis).

The skunk looked up and flirted
its tail at her, but didn't stamp its feet.

"Relax, I'm not here to bother anyone,"
Sienna said, smiling at it. "Go back
to whatever you were doing."

The skunk dropped its head
and snuffled around in the duff at
the ankles of an enormous redwood.


The telepathic warning rolled through the forest,
seeming to come from some distance away.

It left her head ringing, and she couldn't
imagine how it must feel to people
closer to the source, even with it
spreading out over such an expanse.

Sienna couldn't help remembering
the incident with the colossal squid
down in the San Francisco Bay.

No time to worry about that now,
though. She dove to the ground,
hugging the gingery duff and
locking hands behind her head.

Nothing happened.

Sienna waited. She was
sure that the warning was real.
Colossal squids didn't play pranks.

As the seconds ticked past, she
realized that the earthquake wasn't
local, it must be rolling in from
somewhere farther away.

The more moments passed,
the more uneasy she got, thinking
not about the good old San Andreas
but the unknown and ominous
Cascadian Subduction Zone.

The ground gave one sharp buck and
she held onto a sapling as thick as her wrist.

The skunk sensibly darted into a hollow tree.

Then Sienna heard a sort of querulous rumble
and the vast trees all around her stirred.

Leaves and small branches rained down,
covering her ruddy hair with debris, but
the earth only rippled in waves that
felt like riding a boat in the bay
on a choppy spring day.

Slowly the waves faded, and
Sienna checked her vidwatch.

The shaking had lasted about
forty seconds. At that duration,
the intensity should have been
a lot worse than it seemed to be.

Sienna looked around the forest.

Other than a lot of leafy trash,
she couldn't see any damage --
no fallen trees, no cracks in
the ground -- and even
the trail seemed fine.

Little Two-Legs?
Are you all right?

The voice was deep
and large, even more so
than the bassos profundos
that Sienna had heard
in a concert once.

"Hello? Who are you?
Where are you?" she said
as she sat up and brushed
the leaves off herself.

A laugh rumbled past.
Little Two-Legs, I am
standing right beside you.

The only thing right beside her
was the two-hundred-foot-tall tree.

Sienna recalled the myths that she
had explored in Native American Studies,
about the Redwoods teaching people
how to make canoes and other things.

"You're the tree?" she whispered.

Your kind call us the Standing People,
thon replied. Did the shaking hurt you?

"No, I'm fine," Sienna said, climbing
to her feet. "Other people might be hurt."

That happens when the ground shakes,
said the tree. We held it steady as best
we could, but there are so few of us now.
We could not reach very far away.

Sienna thought about how the redwoods
once spanned the coast from Santa Cruz
to the southern edge of Oregon. Her heart
ached as she realized that if humans hadn't
cut them down, then those trees might have
helped to buffer the earthquake even more.

Your face is raining, and your spirit
overflows with sorrow,
said the tree.
Are you quite sure you're all right?

"I am not injured," Sienna said.
"I'm just sad because there are
so few of you, and my head hurts."

The throbbing ache that had started with
the telepathic warning was worse now.

Ah yes, when I learned how to hold down
the shaking ground, I ached too,
said the tree.
But then I took a nap, and I feel better now.

"How long of a nap?" Sienna wondered.

Images of snow and fog flittered past
like one of those cartoon flip books.

A long time, then. She thought about
the last big earthquake, that 7.8 in 1906,
and wondered if that might be when.

"Do you have a name?" she asked.
I can't just keep calling you 'The Tree'
when there are trees everywhere."

Sienna felt more than saw an impression
of sand in a creek moving and then stopping.

"Stillsand?" she translated tentatively.

That will do, thon replied. It has been
a long time since I spoke with your kind.

"I've worked here since I got out of college,"
Sienna said. "I talk to the trees all the time!
How come you never talked back to me before?"

I was napping, Stillsand said. Do you
often talk in your sleep, Little Two-Legs?

"Well, no," she said, "and my name is Sienna."

Stillsand rumbled a laugh. Redwood Fur!
You are named after the color of our bark.

She was, actually. A hand crept up
to stroke the long reddish-brown strands,
searching for any stray leaves or twigs.

At least that was better than a nickname
that more-or-less meant "small human."

"Okay," she said. "Thank you for
helping out during the earthquake."

It is what I do, Stillsand replied.
The others here lend me their strength,
and together we keep the forest safe.

Sienna could feel it, a little, through
thon's vast ancient mind -- a sense
of the forest as a community, or
perhaps as one living creature.

"Ecology," she said, "or environment.
I work to protect the forest too, even though
I'm not actually a part of it. I just work here,
instead of living in it the way you do."

Is a leaf not part of the tree?
Is your hand not part of your body?

Stillsand said. In the same way
we are all part of the living world.

Talking about ecology with a redwood,
Sienna realized, could get very deep very fast.

"Okay," she said. "Biosphere, then. All life
belongs to the biosphere of the Earth."

Stillsand's amusement rippled over her.
Would you like to help me take care
of the forest, Redwood Fur?

Sienna was reminded of when
she let the local cats "help"
dig up her garden in spring.

"I would be honored," she said.

It made her think of an old poem:
"Sink down, O traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees."

Sienna couldn't begin to live up to
that example, but she could do her best
to follow along in a more human scale.

"I should get back to the visitor center,"
she said. "If the earthquake was that bad
in here with you holding it down, then
it must be worse elsewhere."

Little Two-Legs, the shaking was
very bad and very wide,
said Stillsand.
Go and tend your own grove now.

That came with an image of humans
standing in a crowd, like a grove of trees.

Sienna walked back down the trail,
hoping that the earthquake damage
wasn't more than the park could handle.

Sunlight through a break in the trees
made her squint painfully. She
needed a couple of aspirin, and
maybe some blue chamomile.

Then the trees closed over the trail
again, and Sienna realized that
she would never think of them
as merely trees anymore.

She thought of them as
giants and patriarchs,
and if not quite gods,

then certainly heroes.

* * *


Sienna Mullen -- She has pale skin with freckles, brown eyes, and long reddish-brown hair with just a little wave. She is tall and slim with a long face. Her heritage is primarily Irish and American, with a Marin Miwok great-grandfather. She speaks English, Spanish, and a little bit of Marin Miwok. Sienna graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Earth Science plus minors in Native American Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies. She lives in the Panoramic neighborhood of Mill Valley in Marin County, California. Due to the proximate assistance from Muir Woods, this area has sustained the least damage from the earthquake, leaving utilities intact or barely impaired. This makes it a precious refuge in a region battered by disasters. Sienna works as a park ranger in Muir Woods. She enjoys doing studies in the woods and leading programs such as the Junior Rangers.
Origin: She always had a subclinical sensitivity to nature, but after contact with two nonhuman species during the Cascadia Cataclysm, she manifested Nature Communication.
Uniform: On duty, she wears the Muir Woods ranger uniform of khaki shirt and pants with a broadbrimmed hat. Off duty, she typically wears practical clothes in earth tones.
Qualities: Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Muir Woods Ranger, Good (+2) Naturalistic Intelligence, Good (+2) Peacemonger, Good (+2) Tall
Poor (-2) Dislikes Loud Noise
Powers: Average (0) Nature Communication
Sienna can communicate primarily with plants and animals, sometimes in words, more often in feelings. She has a more tenuous awareness of other features such as rocks or streams.
Motivation: To protect nature and teach people about it.

"It is known that the Native Americans living in the area which later became Marin County were Miwoks. The Miwok were, for the most part, coastal dwellers. The largest centers of population were located near present-day Bolinas, Sausalito and San Rafael, because these areas put them close to a dependable food supply of clams, mussels, limpets and acorns. Most likely the Miwoks never lived in Muir Woods; however, it is probable that they did pass through the area and, on occasion, hunt in this vicinity."

In Local-America, most of the coast tribes were wiped out due to genocide in the invasion of Turtle Island; somewhat more remain in Terramagne-America. The Marin Miwok have a rancheria that occupies the white space between Muir Woods, Marin Municipal Water District Mount Tamalpais Watershed, and the Mill Valley neighborhoods of Panoramic, Edgewood-Cypress, Lovell Avenue, and Blithedale Canyon / Middle Ridge. That's about 46 acres. California rancherias tend to be quite small compared to reservations in other states. See a map of Marin County for context. Compare this with the history of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, formerly known as the Federated Coast Miwok

In T-America, the Coast Miwok language has survived, although it doesn't have many speakers. Marin and Bodega are two related dialects of Coast Miwok.

The Junior Ranger Program includes some nifty resources such as a Junior Ranger Booklet and quest project. Activities have evolved over the years; I can remember doing some things when I visited in the 1980s. Decades later, here I am still sticking up for the redwoods.

The Panoramic neighborhood of Mill Valley in Marin County, California has many redwoods of its own. Due to the proximate assistance from Muir Woods, this area has sustained the least damage from the earthquake, leaving utilities intact or barely impaired. This makes it a precious refuge in a region battered by disasters.

Bachelor of Arts in Earth Science Courses
EPS 50 The Planet Earth 4
Methods of Mathematics: Calculus, Statistics, and Combinatorics
and Methods of Mathematics: Calculus, Statistics, and Combinatorics
Physics for Scientists and Engineers
and Physics for Scientists and Engineers

EPS 102 History and Evolution of Planet Earth 4
EPS 117 Geomorphology 4
EPS 150 Case Studies in Earth Systems 2
ENE,RES 102 Quantitative Aspects of Global Environmental Problems 4

ESPM 130A Forest Hydrology 4
GEOG 143 Global Change Biogeochemistry 3
INTEGBI C155 Holocene Paleoecology: How Humans Changed the Earth 3
INTEGBI 159 The Living Planet: Impact of the Biosphere on the Earth System 3

Minor in Native American Studies Courses
Native American Studies 110
NATAMST C152 001 | CCN: 22657 Native American Literature by Beth Piatote
NATAMST R1A 001 | CCN: 22662 Native American Studies Reading and Composition
NATAMST 100 001 | CCN: 22668 Native American Law by Joseph Myers
NATAMST 90 001 | CCN: 22671 Freshman Seminar--Myth, Memory and History by Diane Pearson
NATAMST 105 001 | CCN: 30985 Indigenous Issues Across the Americas by Enrique Lima
NATAMST 175 001 | CCN: 22686 History of Native Americans in California by JoEllen Anderson

Sienna's research project featured West Coast tribal lore about the natural world. In the first semester H195A, she gathered stories and compared versions from different tribes. In the second semester H195B, she designed a presentation of tribal stories to park visitors in hopes of raising environmental awareness. She also earned honors credit for her study of the Marin Miwok language. In L-Berkeley, the language preservation program is for graduate students, but in T-Berkeley anyone can take it.

Minor in Peace and Conflict Studies Courses
T-America requires PACS 10: Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies (4 units)
PACS 94: Theory and Practice of Meditation (1 unit)
PACS 100 Peace Theory: Approaches and Analyses
PACS 128AC: Human Rights and American Cultures (4 units)
PACS 150AC: Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (3 units)
PACS 151 International Conflict: Analysis and Resolution
PACS 159: Conflict Resolution Intensive Training (3 units)

Hillside Trail leads to Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods National Monument, California. This 2.0 mile loop hike is an easy trail that only takes about an hour.

Based on contemporary photos online, it looks like much of Hillside Trail and Cathedral Grove have been fenced in. When I visited in the 1980s, it was just open woods and the trail was often challenging to find. You just sort of meandered among the giant trees and hoped they wouldn't decide to get you good and lost. In T-America, most of it remains open beyond a short stretch of paved paths around the Visitor Center, but it is well marked.

A sign marks the entrance to Cathedral Grove. Those big-looking trees are mostly juveniles, only a few centuries old.

Redwoods are powerful terraformers. They catch fog and funnel it down to the forest floor, where it runs in streams. Like gigantism, this is a species gift for them, not a superpower.

The forest floor is carpeted with ferns and redwood fronds, under which lies a thick red carpet of shed bark and leaves. It's springy. You can fall on it and bounce.

Stillsand -- Thon is a coast redwood. These trees are monoecious, bearing male (pollen-producing) and female (seed-bearing) cones on different branches of the same tree, so they are all hermaphrodites. Stillsand is around 1100 years old. Thon lives in the Cathedral Grove of Muir Woods, Marin County, California. During the Cascadia Cataclysm, Stillsand led the grove to buffer the earthquake, reducing it from 7.8 to 5.8 in Muir Woods and 6.8 in San Francisco.
Origin: Stillsand manifested superpowers around 1000 years of age, the typical time for redwoods who have them. Thus the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco was slightly buffered down to 7.8 from what would have been 8.0.
Uniform: None. Thon goes nude.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Redwood, Good (+2) Curiosity, Good (+2) Interspecies Diplomacy, Good (+2) Leader
Poor (-2) I Am Not Fast
Powers: Average (0) Earthquake Suppression, Average (0) Interspecies Communication
Motivation: To maintain the forest.

Redwoods enjoy a number of species gifts that are superpowers for most lifeforms. This educational booklet lists some of them. While seedlings are vulnerable to fire, saplings begin to develop Fire Resistance, and mature trees can have bark up to a foot thick which protects from all but the most devastating blazes. Similarly, they develop the Fog Catching ability once they grow to cloud height. If a tree is cut or falls down, it can Regenerate from the stump, creating a type of Immortality. Ring counting only measures the life of a trunk; the actual organism may be much older. En masse, they are powerful Terraformers, shaping the environment to suit their needs and thereby supporting many other species beneath their shelter.

* * *

"Having made these noble trees an especial study during the past year, I approach them always, I may say, with reverence. As giants and patriarchs of the forest they stand alone. Nowhere throughout the world can be found living trees that are more majestic and inspiring.... It is a pleasure to linger in the redwoods to contemplate their greatness.... The trees are grand without being oppressive; noble but not arrogant; lords of the soil that do not impoverish the land."
-- F.H. Clark, “Forestry; Redwoods,” Annual Report of the State Board of Horticulture of the State of California, for 1891

In the Bay Area, the Deep Old One sounds a telepathic warning, about two minutes before the earthquake hits, so people have time to take shelter. A grove of redwoods in Muir Woods reduces the earthquake from 7.8 to 5.8 there, and to 6.8 in San Francisco. The shaking of the main quake, not counting aftershocks, lasts for 40 seconds. The intensity in Muir Woods is VII, with little or no damage to sturdy structures, moderate to ordinary ones, and considerable to flimsy ones. Loose leaves and branches rain down. See the story "Poseidon Arises" by Siliconshaman.

Muir Woods
5.0 – 5.9 about 1,000 VI – VII moderate – felt by most people, possible broken plaster and chimneys
VI. Felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.
VII. Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.

San Francisco
6.0 – 6.9 about 130 VII – IX strong – damage variable depending on building construction and substrate
VII. Damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken.
VIII. Damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial buildings with partial collapse. Damage great in poorly built structures. Fall of chimneys, factory stacks, columns, monuments, walls. Heavy furniture overturned.
IX. Damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown out of plumb. Damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.

The original range of the coast redwoods spanned the California coast and just barely into Oregon. This map compares the original range to the remnants surviving in L-America. T-America still has somewhat more, but not a lot more. These areas have active projects involving redwoods. Save the Redwoods is studying the impact of climate change on redwoods, and vice versa.

Muir Woods stands in Marin County, part of the Bay Area. So the redwoods mitigate the earthquake in their immediate area, and somewhat in nearby areas. The Judgmental Map of Marin County gives some tongue-in-cheek impressions of local color. See a wide view and closeup map of trails in Muir Woods.

A network of faults undermines the Bay Area. See maps for the probability of shaking and the historic epicenters.

Coastal redwoods at Muir Woods average between 600 to 800 years, with the oldest at least 1200 years old. These are young adults to middle age, since redwoods can live up to 2200 years. The tallest known redwood at Muir Woods is 258 feet. Cathedral Grove is among the most impressive parts of the park. I've been there, and walked on holy ground.

After the Cascadia Cataclysm and during the recovery period, many people move away from the West Coast. Now aware that redwoods are not only terraformers but a few of them can also reduce earthquake damage, the government launches an initiative to buy land from those refugees who do not wish to return at what was fair-market value just prior to the disaster. Much of the land acquired in areas historically covered by redwood forests is ceded to the Standing People. Felling of redwoods is banned, although limited harvesting -- mostly with traditional methods -- of natural deadfall is still permitted.

Checklists help track wildlife in an area. See overall, mammal, and bird checklists for Muir Woods.

Skunks are phlegmatic and prefer to avoid conflict. They warn before spraying with such signs as stomping, flicking or raising their tail, and growling. As long as the skunk's business end is pointed away from you, it's not a credible threat. If the skunk turns around with tail raised, the weapon is armed and ready to fire. A skunk merely leaving will have its tail lowered.

Microhabitats are small spots within a larger environmental area where the features are slightly different. They are important in sampling wildlife.

Duff is plant matter that accumulates under trees such as redwoods, creating a habitat for bugs and other wildlife. Redwood duff is swarming with life.

Earthquake safety includes knowing how to survive one in various locations.

The San Andreas is a fault running along the West Coast, parts of which are also overdue. The ShakeOut Scenario is one roleplaying exercise showing the possibilities.

Look at the Ring of Fire. See how all the faults connect around the Pacific? It's not one fault here and one there. It's a fault system, like a giant game of Jenga with us standing on the tower. That means an earthquake in one place can chain through the system, destabilize the crust somewhere else, and cause another quake there. It's sort of obvious when you look at the fault map, but I am just starting to see a few references to this possibility in articles, like this one discussing the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults. Earthquakes can go deeper than expected, too. Well, duh, it's all one Earth. California is poorly prepared for this possibility. Some cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, have made concerted efforts in earthquake mitigation; but others like San Bernardino are largely defenseless.

Mitakuye oyasin has been translated as "all my relations" or "we are all related." Standing People is a term for trees. Two-Legs or Two-Legged People refers to humans. While these examples come from the Lakota of the plains, similar concepts appear throughout most tribes on Turtle Island. On the coast, some tribes revere Redwood as a spirit teacher who showed them how to make canoes and other useful things.

Basso profundo is the lowest range of human vocalists. The voice should have a "large" quality. Listen to a warmup, speaking voice, and "The Volga Boatmen."

To be like these, straight, true and fine,
To make our world, like theirs, a shrine;
Sink down, O traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
-- Joseph B. Strauss, from “The Redwoods,” 1932
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, nature, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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