"Is that it Dada?" asked Matthew
staring at the enormous bum and belly obscuring his view.
"No Matt, move this way a little and you'll see it," I replied.
He shuffled into the shadow of the overweight man and looked
around impatiently. "Where is it Dada?"
"There, right in front of you," I said pointing to the majestic
sequoia tree. "The largest living thing on earth." Ribbons
of golden bark reached up to a snagged crown that touched
the sun. It was a monarch, a tree of ages, strong and silent,
old and wise, now sadly reduced to a tourist photo stop.
The largest living thing on earth
Matthew took quick look then, like
most of the milling day-trippers, seemed to lose interest.
"Can we go and get that ice cream now?"
I tried to buy a little more time for me to take in this
colossal sight and to help him appreciate its significance.
"Did you know that this tree is taller than twenty two elephants
standing one on top of the other?"
He looked unimpressed. As if twenty two elephants would
ever stand on top of one another.
"You know, this giant is so wide that even if our whole
family stretched out holding hands we still wouldn't be
able to give it a hug."
He looked bored. Why would we ever want to hug a tree.
"And it's been growing here for over two and a half thousand
years, that's older than you, me, granny and granddad put
together, times ten."
He looked curious for a moment, like a question was forming
in his mind.
"Do you have a question Matt?" I asked pleased that I'd
finally captured his interest.
"Yes Dada. Why is that man so fat?" he asked loudly.
I gently shuffled him back into the crowd and backed away.
"Let's go and get that ice cream shall we?"
One of the things it's hard not
to notice in America is just how big everything is. And
arriving here after six months in New Zealand and a month
in Samoa has made the contrasts all the more dramatic. Compared
to those two smallish countries, the scale of this place
is hard to comprehend; people live a lifetime here and never
get to visit all fifty states. But it's not just that distances
are greater, the whole scale of things seems grander; mountain
ranges stretch further, peaks reach higher, canyons plunge
deeper, rivers run wider, faster, stronger. In the two weeks
we've been here we've crossed vast baking deserts, peered
into the chasm of Grand Canyon, camped under Giant Sequoias
and strolled beneath the massive granite buttresses of Kings
Canyon. Nature certainly does it large here. And if a nation's
identity is in some part a reflection of its' landscape,
then it should be no surprise that America sees itself as
big, strong and powerful.
Nature is BIG here. The Grand Canyon looking..... grand.
And it shows in the
way mankind has left his mark here. In less than 300 years
the population here has grown from way less than one million
to almost 300 million. It's strange to be amongst so many
people after the relative quiet of Samoa and New Zealand.
The population of LA alone is almost the same as that of
New Zealand and nearly forty times that of Samoa. And all
those people need food, water, homes and of course cars.
The little people visit the BIG city
For some reason a big country needs
big cars. We rented the most compact vehicle we could which
turned out to be a 2.3 litre Mazda coupe. More power than
we needed but a small car in America where we share the
road with gas guzzling station wagons, pick-up trucks, SUV's,
hummers and RV's (recreational vehicles) the size of a fifty
two seater bus. And lots of cars means lots of roads; big
roads, wide roads, long roads, straight roads, the more
lanes the better, carving their way across the land from
town to town and city to city. Getting around couldn't be
easier, even if it takes a while. And once inside your vehicle
there's little reason for you to ever get out again; you
can do your shopping at the drive-in shops, get your meals
from the drive-in restaurants, get your medicine from the
drive-in pharmacy, grab your entertainment at the drive-in
movies and even get married at the drive-in wedding chapel.
Convenience and the car are king.
A small Recreational Vehicle
The one thing you do need to get
out of the car for is the toilet. But even those really
are rest rooms. Doors open by themselves, toilet tissue
is dispensed automatically, bowls flush when you get up,
taps turn on without human intervention and machines auto-issue
hand towels. It doesn't leave much for you to do except
sit down and have that rest.
And rest is one thing we've not
been short of. It's like we've gone from one extreme to
another; from cycling three hours a day pulling 100kg loads
and sleeping on half an inch of camping mat to doing little
more than walking from the car to a motel or restaurant
three times a day and sleeping soundly in soft queen size
beds. Mind you, you can burn a lot of calories getting to
your hotel room. In Las Vegas it took nearly forty five
minutes each way to get from the car park to our family
room, finally located high on the 35th floor of a four thousand
room hotel. Now that's what I call a big hotel. And it brought
big smiles when Matthew, Cameron and Kirstie saw the size
of the bath. After seven months with barely a bath in sight,
they were finally able to relax in one big enough to take
the whole family and with enough space for snorkelling.
The view from our room in one of the BIG hotels in Las Vegas
But life in hotels and motels was
starting to get us down a little; after a while they all
feel the same and leave you us little sense of place, so
we bought ourselves a small tent for camping in the National
Parks. We spent two hours exercising in Wal-Marts before
we tracked down the camping section and were able to purchase
a small family tent to replace the one we sent home when
we left New Zealand. We're now the proud owners of an eleven
person, three room tent complete with two queen size inflatable
mattresses and an electric-inflator; camping American style.
The kids think we've bought our own mobile fun factory and
we're all pleased to be able to get away from the towns
and cities again and sleep under the stars.
But you can't get away from the
food; even National Park Centres have concession cafes serving
eat as much as you want breakfasts, pizzas, burgers, fries
and 42oz refillable sodas. The boys are loving it and seemed
pleased at the increasing amount of junk and fast food we
are consuming, but Kirstie and I are limiting everyone to
one unlimited buffet meal a day to try and avoid us coming
home as the largest living family on earth.
Matthew and I slipped away from
the giant sequoia to get some ice creams and cool down.
The ice cream parlour had a wide selection of ices, cones
and frozen chocolate goodies.
"Hi there. How're you doin'? What can I get you?" asked
the large lady serving.
"Just four small cones please," I said.
She reached deep into a vat of ice cream, once, twice, three
times, four times, adding scoop after scoop of ice cream
to a tiny cone. "There you go, there's the first," she said
as she passed a tottering tower over the counter.
"Is that a small?" I asked looking at the over loaded cone.
"Sure, would you prefer to go large?" she asked, "it's just
fifty cents more."
"No, no thanks. Can we just make it two small cones. I think
we'll share." I replied.
I passed the first cone to Matthew. "There you go Matt,
that's why that man was so fat."