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Unplug Under the Trees
May, 2020 - Issue #188

How do you get teenagers to put down their phones? Big questions sometimes require big answers. Especially now, following weeks of school closures and social distancing.

So try this answer on for size: the world's largest trees. You'll find them in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. And on a short weekend visit before the coronavirus lockdown, I found them powerful enough to overcome the pull of the phone.

A forecasted snow storm prompted us to leave Santa Clarita early on Saturday morning - to maximize the time spent in the park, and to ensure we reached the big trees before the roads required chains or closed altogether.

Our plan worked. By mid-morning, we stood beneath the superlative General Sherman tree with a light snow falling on our upturned faces. We squinted to see its top, but misty gray clouds obscured its uppermost reaches. Limbs loomed
overhead like ships passing through fog.

The General Sherman stands 275 feet high with a base trunk circumference of more than 103 feet, giving it the honor of the world's largest living tree when measured by volume. Naturally, that's where most visitors stop. But as in most national parks, you can distance yourself from the crowds with a short walk.

We followed the Congress Trail, snow crunching underfoot, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves mostly alone in the grove. Brooke stopped to catch falling snowflakes on her tongue. Amber scooped fresh powdery snow into balls she then aimed at her sister.

In search of food and warmth, we checked in early at the Wuksachi Lodge. I was thankful we opted for one of the larger Superior rooms. With two queen beds, plus a separate sitting area with a foldout couch, it was roomy enough to not only sleep six, but also to spread out and enjoy an indoor picnic. We watched the snow fall increase outside as we munched on salami, blueberry goat cheese, pita crackers, artichoke dip, fruit and other favorite Trader Joe's treats.

Afternoon found us exploring the Big Trees Trail. With beanies tugged low against the cold and swirling flakes, we followed the short loop around Round Meadow. Low-hanging clouds smothered sound, bringing a quiet reverence to the grove. I walked slowly, pausing to simply watch the unfolding winter tableau of drifting flakes gather on the boughs of evergreens.
Phones were again pocketed in favor of exploration. Laurel followed Drew into the cavernous trunk of a long-ago-fallen, and now hollow, sequoia. Drew gathered snow balls, not to throw, but to taste. He and Brooke took bites of their real snow cones as they walked.

Not wanting to drive slippery roads after dark, we returned to the lodge. There, the snow offered another surprise. Its accumulation on the satellite dish blocked signals, leaving us without TV. We opted for analog entertainment. I opened a book, the same one I'd started five months earlier and couldn't seem to finish, while Laurel and Amber hunched over sketch pads with colored pencils in hand.

Sunday morning brought forth a postcard in the park. The sun shone bright in bluebird skies above a forest coated in pure white brilliance. The day was warm, so lodge staff recommended we go sledding early before the slopes at nearby Wolverton Snowplay Area turned slushy.

The kids took turns stomping up the hill and sliding down on the plastic sleds we picked up the day before on our drive north. The elevation, effort and excitement left them breathless and giggling.

April and I added to the laughter with our own clumsy sled runs. But our excitement came from realizing that tall trees, snow and epic scenery can still pull teenagers from their phones.

See the Sequoias
Sequoia National Park nps.gov/seki
Wuksachi Lodge insidescv.com/wuksachi
Wolverton Snow Play Area sierrasnowplay.com/seki/wolverton
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