I live in a redwood house in a redwood coastal canyon, but the wisest thing I ever learned about these massive ancient trees was from a suicide prevention counselor.
You’d think these 35-story, 2000 ton giants would be toppled by our powerful winter ocean storms. (Yes, that’s right, one tree can weigh the same as 20 blue whales.) Especially since they have no taproot and they anchor only ten feet deep.
Emulate the redwoods, the counselor told a group of us ministers. To stay standing, redwoods extend their roots straight out, 80 ft from their base, seeking not just precious water but mutual support – they literally grab onto each other when the storms come.
Buddhist botanist Stephanie Kaza calls redwoods “the yogis of the forest,” silent and wise and deep. Their longevity comes in part from their very thick bark, full of resin that resists fire and prevents decay from insects.
John Steinbeck said about redwood trees, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always….. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time."
Actually they are from another time, the Jurassic period to be exact. Stephen Spielberg was correct in placing T.Rex among the redwoods; the dinosaurs may be long gone, but the sequoia still stands tall. Once populous on most continents, their range shrank as the world warmed, now only on the California coast and Sierra foothills.
Activist Julia Butterfly Hill sat atop a 180 ft. redwood she called Luna for 738 days in the late 90’s to prevent the Pacific Lumber Company from felling it, and to draw attention to the plight of these rare and wise trees. She was somewhat successful – Luna still stands and lumber companies have made at least a public relations commitment to sustainable forestry practices.
Californians realized early the special beauty of redwood groves and have set apart some magnificent ones; I recommend Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the first of our state parks, 1902, and Muir Woods, just 12 miles north of San Francisco, a magical spot.
I stopped at Muir Woods once on my way to a church meeting I was dreading and got some good advice. I have this card, “Advice from a Tree” hanging in my bedroom:
Advice From a Tree
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of your true nature
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The energy and Birth of Spring
The growth and Contentment of Summer
The wisdom to let go like leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night
Seek nourishment from the good things of life
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!
I recently read the fabulous novel Overstory, in which redwood trees play a staring, tragic, powerful role. Say thank you to a redwood today, and stand tall.
I post these Blue Theology devotionals every Wednesday here and on Facebook - be in touch!