Monday, July 7, 2014

"Nature is what we know / Yet have not art to say / So impotent our wisdom is / To her simplicity.  ~ Emily Dickinson

I've admired Hale D. Tharp since I was a little kid, ever since we went camping in his forest. He let us go into his house and sit at his only table, made by his very own hands. The two chairs he made for his table were substantial, not pretty, but they fit my fanny perfectly. His stone fireplace let me imagine a roaring fire with several branches loaded with marshmallows toasting, nearly ready for me to eat. I loved his home and his forest!

Out in front of the hollowed-out Sequoia tree/house that had fallen to the ground a hundred or two or three years before Hale decided to live in it, there is still that same sign I saw when I was little: 

 "Hale D. Tharp, pioneer resident of the Three Rivers locality, first visited Giant Forest in 1858 accompanied by two Yokuts Indians. He lived in this rustic cabin each summer from 1861 until Sequoia National Park was established in 1890. He used the near-by meadows as range for his livestock.

Tharp, recognized as discoverer of Giant Forest, died at his old Three Rivers Ranch home on November 5, 1912 at the age of 84 years." 

Mr. Tharp lived in that Sequoia log every single summer, and it was probably difficult for him to be told that he couldn't live there anymore when Sequoia National Park was "born." Sad... Sad for you, too, because no one is allowed in Mr. Tharp's log anymore. You can see why, too. When you peek through the doorway, you can see the graffitti scrawled on the back wall of his summer home. Sad...

It wasn't that way when I was little, though. Aunt Mary, Uncle Bill, Mike, and Cathy jumped out of their car, and Dad and Mom and Jack, my little brother, and I jumped out of our car, and we all scrambled up towards the perfect rock campfire pit right next to the river! There was plenty of room for the two tents Dad and Uncle Bill were ready to set up for us all. There was even a wooden table with benches where we would eat our meals. The rush of the river water couldn't quite drown out the music of the birds. Heaven!

That night, after eating all sorts of things roasted over the warming fire, it was time for us kids to go to bed. Dad and Uncle Bill had one more job to do, though.

"Come on, kids. Let's walk over to the bathroom," Dad said as he and Uncle Bill grabbed their flash lights. 

We walked into the darkest dark I'd ever seen. The flashlights showed us the path, but no more. When we reached the "out-house" in the clearing, I could see huge shadows walking near us, lifting their heads - their antlered heads! There was a small herd of deer surrounding the "out-house." Dad and Uncle Bill had a short conference that we couldn't hear, and then Dad said, "They're deer, and deer won't hurt you." Dad knew everything, I thought.

It was interesting to go into the narrowest square hut in the world and sit down on a wooden plank with a hole in the middle in the absolute dark, but there it was. And that was our nightly routine for the whole week.  

After tramping back to camp, we kids got into our sleeping bags and listened to the talking and laughing of our parents. I was still awake when Mom and Dad came into the tent and got into their cots. I was still awake when Dad started to snore. I was still awake for hours after that because I was scared!

As I lay there in my sleeping bag, I kept looking at the tent "wall." It was cloth. My clothes were cloth. I'd torn cloth thicker than this tent. Bears lived in the forest, Dad had said so. Bears had claws and long teeth, and could tear things lots stronger than these tent "walls." I was scared... too scared to sleep.

But morning came and I could smell bacon and coffee outside, and I could hear Mom and Aunt Mary, too, with her Southern drawl, laughing and cooking and giggling some more. And I heard the magic word, "Pancakes!" All was well.

Mike grabbed my arm and said, "We're going on a hike, Terry!" And off we went, with Cathy and Jackie trailing behind us, whining loudly all the way. They would surely scare away all the bears in those woods.

Our "hike" was approximately the length of a football field. We'd reached the edge of the river, and Mike's eyes were twinkling with ideas. 

"Terry, let's build a dam!"

We waded into the shallowest part of the was kind of a wide, lazy river right there. We found the narrowest part of that river, grabbed the biggest rocks we could find, and plopped them into the water, one on top of another. Our slave-laborers whined and mewed, but we knew what we were doing... Well, Mike seemed to know... Well, the water did get stiller as the dam got taller. Fairly quickly we found ourselves in a deepening, but quiet, perfectly clear, pool of water. Success! Mike started searching, and suddenly he whooped and gallomped over to me, yelling, "GOLD! GOLD! I FOUND GOLD, TERRY! We'll be RICH!"

Gold was tucked into tiny pebbles on the floor of that river, so we submerged our faces looking for as much as we could find. It kept us busy for a long while, and Jackie and Cathy even stopped whining when they finally got into the spirit of gold-gathering. We actually had a little pile of GOLD to bring back to camp and show off to our parents. We were RICH!


The uniformed man with a shiny badge was huge and stern and loud! "YOU CANNOT BUILD DAMS IN THIS RIVER! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE... BEAVERS? PUT THOSE ROCKS BACK WHERE YOU FOUND THEM!!!"

Well, that took longer than the fun of building that dam, that's for sure! But we marched truimphfully back to camp with our handfuls of "GOLD." Of course, Uncle Bill and Dad told us it was only "fool's gold" that we'd found... very fitting, don't you think?

Days passed... There were real hikes with our parents, car trips to General Sherman and the other "old man" trees, and even lunch in a little cafe - a special treat. Days were fun, but then the nights came, and it seemed that I was the only one awake, trying to listen beyond the snoring and into the forest... listening for bear paws plodding along the trail to our tents.

It was our last night in camp. Tomorrow morning we would pack up our things, make sure the fire was absolutely out, and stuff ourselves in the cars for the long ride back to Southern California. We kids were with our Dads on the nightly trail to our "out-house." When Cathy finally came out, slammed the door, and grabbed Uncle Bill's hand, we heard yells... shrill yells... yells that sounded like our Moms... It WAS our Moms!


As we ran to our camp site, our Moms were screaming and pointing to the campsite next to us. Dad and Uncle Bill turned their flashlights towards the wooden table, and there was a bear, sitting at that table eating all the food that the people had not put away before they left for somewhere that evening! He looked just like my brother would have if he'd owned a bear costume! I can see that bear now in my mind's eye. He certainy had better manners than my brother did at our dinner table, and I swear the bear had a smile on his face. That bear was happily eating everything that was put before him!

Naturally, the flashlights, the shouting, the screaming, and the laughing drove him away. He was running away for dear life down the river's edge, and we never saw him again.

We all sat around the campfire that night talking about that bear as we toasted the last of the marshmallows. When it was time for us kids to go to bed, I had the only gooood night's sleep I'd had all week. I bet I even had a smile on my face!

Through the years I've wondered why that night I could suddenly sleep so well. All I can come up with is that when you finally get a real-life look at what terrified you for so long... well, it's just never as bad as what you thought it was going to be... never... Sometimes, it can even be down-right funny!   


  1. You had me at the wonderful Emily Dickinson quote. And it was a rollicking good story, too! Thanks.

  2. Thanks so much, Cindy. It's too bad, though, that Tharp's Log had to be closed. It was so special to me!