Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Walk in Beauty, Cry for Shame

Ancient Bristle cones and the Manzanar National Historical Site

It rained all night and looked bad up on the Western Sierras. We called and postponed the horseback ride. The Eastern Sierras have the oldest and biggest Bristle cones in the world. Mrs. Phred is examining a tree that died in 1676 AD. It was 3600 years old.

Bristle cone pines are the oldest known plant or animal. This grove has the oldest and largest collection of these ancient trees. It's a 45 mile drive up back canyon roads to get here at 10,100 feet.

We hike up a trail to see the strange and twisted trees. They take 100 years to grow an inch in diameter. The root system is very shallow to take advantage of the meager moisture. Some trees die as their roots become exposed. Estimates are that the soil they grow in erodes at a rate of one foot each thousand years.

When you think about living 5.000 years, at first it seems like a good idea. But then you have to think that Bristle cones don't get to travel much or see anything very interesting. I'll settle for my four score and seven and mobility.

Bristle cones have lots of labor-saving and survival strategies. The needles last an average of 40 years. When water is scarce, part of the tree sacrifices itself and dies. I took a picture of one tree here whose ring core sample dates it back to 2624 B.C. I think this is the one.

We had some time in the afternoon so we drove to the Manzanar National Historical Monument. During WW11 over 120,000 innocent Japanese-Americans were interned in facilities that FDR described as concentration camps. The internees were give 48 hours to abandon their homes and businesses and report for transportation to a camp with only the possessions they could carry. Only six of the 150 that died in this camp remain in the cemetery. The rest were removed by the families who began new lives after the war with $25 and a bus ticket. People leave coins, toys, Sake and other mementos at this sad memorial.

As we walked in, a Japanese-American and his teenage boys were looking at a picture of people in the camp. The boys asked the Dad if he knew anyone in the pictures. We went to the half-hour movie with that family. I couldn't meet his eyes as we walked out. This perhaps the most shameful, racist violation of constitutional rights of Americans in the 20th Century. Thankfully, the theater was dark and my tears were not all that noticeable.

Over 26,000 Japanese-Americans served in combat in WWII. The 442nd segregated Combat Regiment had the highest casualty rate and most medals of valor of any American unit in Europe. At the same time, the government asked the interned Japanese-American boys to sign a loyalty oath and agree to be drafted which infuriated a number of the young men who were behind barbed wire in the California desert. 85 of the "disloyals" were shipped off to Tule Lake where the ACLU complained about beatings and harsh conditions. This is a diorama representing the barracks that were constructed to house and contain 10,000 detainees at Manzanar.

The 120,000 Japanese-American citizens who were sent to concentration camps for "their own protection" were surprised to see the barbed wire, guard towers and the bayonets turned in toward the camps, rather than out. No Japanese-American was ever charged with sedition or espionage during WW11.

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