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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Fearless Steps Above the Clouds

Mountains, Sequoia National Park, California
View from Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park, Mj Pettengill


It is no secret that I love trees. It sounds so cliché, I know. My earliest memories usually involve trees. For example, a giant hemlock tree behind my grandmother’s—the other Maryjane’s— house was a world of its own. I played there often and envisioned various branches as rooms where I would climb and inhabit in my imagination.

I entered and exited the barn of my childhood via a tree by a side door. Every time I pass by, I check to see if it is still there. It is. Then, I wonder if anyone else climbs it to enter and exit the barn.

Of course, there is the tree that still stands at the edge of the field in the village. I fell from it on my eighth birthday, ending up in traction for the entire summer. It wasn’t until I wrote my novel, Down from the Tree, that I fully comprehended the deeper meaning of that experience. I carry it with me when I retrieved the part of my soul left there so long ago.

When I visited my son in California, we were fortunate to spend time in the Sequoia Giant Forest in the quaint town of Three Rivers. We planned to hike Moro Rock to witness the sunrise over the mountains. It was still dark when we set out on this journey. It was probably a good thing, as I am not a fan of heights. The winding road that meanders through the mountains makes the Mt. Washington Auto Road look like child’s play.

The temps were in the low thirties when we set out on the short but steep walk up the rock—the granite dome. Sufficiently bundled, we began climbing the narrow granite steps. As the day began to lighten, I looked over the side, stopped, and said a short prayer. I was with both of my sons, so in true fashion, I did not let on that I was terrified. Throughout the time spent on our farm and in our homeschool, I set an example. Yes, I was brave, but we all knew what I was really thinking.

This was a self-teaching moment. I asked myself how it was possible to fall over the railing. It’s all a state of mind. I simply avoided looking at the drop that is about 6,990 feet of pure rock and ledge. It was the epitome of duality—stunning beauty in a harrowing setting. How blessed I was to be in that situation.

The second we reached the top, the sun peered over the peaks of the western Sierra Nevada of California. The timing could not have been better. The area on the top was guarded with more railings made of both granite and iron. I was safe. We created a lasting memory in one of the grandest places I have yet to see.

Since the world was illuminated by the bright sun, I spotted the sequoias clearly for the first time. It is my job to find the proper expression for my response, but as of this moment, there isn’t a word grand enough. But gratitude and awe are in there. 

When we climbed down the rock, I was more grounded than before. Of course, I hugged the inner granite wall, but I could breathe. I knew we were on our way to what felt like safe ground.

It was time to walk on the path leading to The General Sherman Tree. It is reported to be the largest tree on earth. It is humbling, to say the least. The other trees in the Giant coniferous forest were dwarfed in the presence of the sequoias, but it is perception. They, too, were incredible in stature.

We inhabit a spectacular planet. The sheer size of these mountains and trees is overwhelming at best. And yes, I was there with my sons—an extraordinary experience fixed in my mind. 

Upon my return to the woods of New Hampshire, I went for a hike to one of my usual places. It is not as immense but offers greatness in its own right. I am at home amongst these trees. I know them as they know me. We have much to be grateful for here.

During these times, when so much is at risk, this encounter cast increased light on the urgency of protecting our precious resources. As is the case here in these mountains, the forests of California are on the chopping block. 

I trust the trees and other beings in the wild. They know how to survive and contribute to the balance and wellness of Our Mother. But can they survive human intervention? Time will tell.

My favorite book is The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. I recommend it to anyone who has not read it.  

Sequoia Trees, National Park, Forest
Mj Pettengill, Sequoia National Park


Dec 31, 2023

I have waited to see if others respond to your posting . I can wait no longer so must make a few comments. Without banging the same drum too loudly it is essential to support all of those who support life on this planet. You engage with Nature, observe her ways closely. are moved by what you experience and share your thoughts sand feelings , not from an egotistical way but to ensure that Nature is there for future generations. So many online commentators are there for their own vanity . I suppose when one million tick a box to like a photo of a cat and dog in a basket, it sets a precedent for others to upload a…

Mj Pettengill
Mj Pettengill
Jan 01
Replying to

I'm grateful for your support and comprehension of my intentions. I pray that the planet will heal. She is capable of this if humanity steps out of the way and acts responsibly rather than politically fueled by greed. Our Mother always strives for balance and to heal. Thanks for your positive feedback.

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