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May 25, 2015

Standing beneath the redwoods is unlike any experience you’ve ever had before. Stepping off the busy road into a forest of the giant, ancient redwoods transports you to a world that is calm. A world that is serene. In the redwoods, all is quiet. You leave behind the sounds of people shouting, dogs barking, and cars cruising by. Even your footsteps on the pine needles are silent as you creep along beneath these heaven-seeking trees. Above you, there are only glimpses of blue sky, but somehow it still seems bright among the trees. The trees stand, larger than you imagined, around you. Large trunks a dozen or more feet in diameter rise all around you, welcoming you, and pulling you further in. You know that if you kept walking just a bit farther, you could lose the road and be lost forever in this glorious wood of serene timber…

Redwoods are truly incredible trees. Standing up to 350 feet tall and living up to 2,000 years is impressive enough alone. But the redwoods are also masters of resiliency. Insects, fungi, and fire are trees sworn enemies, but the redwood has thwarted all their attempts to overtake it. Although hundreds of different kinds of insects may kill other trees around them, the redwoods are unaffected by the pests. Fungi too, use trees to create food for themselves, usually infecting and killing the tree in the process. Most redwoods have fungi in their core wood, called “heartwood”, but have not been known to ever fall victim to the fungi.

But perhaps the most dangerous threat to trees is fire. Fire wipes out entire forests in minutes, quickly spreading in the dry lands of California and consuming everything in its path. Thick bark alone cannot protect trees from this onslaught of pain, but unlike most trees, redwoods are resilient. The redwoods do not have flammable resin like the pines, fir, and spruce. They hold a great deal of water, including in the sap, and their bark is one foot thick. Even if fire gets through cracks in the bark and burns the heartwood, redwoods can survive. Somehow, redwoods have adapted to be able to be hollowed out, and still survive.

This is astounding, but my favorite part of the redwoods is not their ability to overcome all of these extreme harsh obstacles. My favorite part is something beneath the surface – their roots. Most trees have a terminal root, one large root that digs as fast and deep as it can to secure the tree deep in the ground. The redwoods do not have any terminal roots. Instead, the redwoods have a series of roots just 6–12 feet deep. Yes, only 6-12 feet . How? The answer is quite beautiful– it lives with other redwoods, in forests of redwoods. Instead of sending one large terminal root down, the redwoods send roots out horizontally. The roots extend outward, fifty to eighty feet, and grasp onto other redwood roots, intermingling with dozens of other redwoods root systems, linking themselves to a network of redwoods throughout the entire forest, and holding each other up. Although the redwood is resilient, it does not survive on its own – the redwoods survive together.

There are times when I think of the redwoods. I imagine myself among the trees, gliding along the forest floor, breathing in the renewing air. I close my eyes and imagine sitting on the forest floor beneath the redwoods, staring upwards at their arms reaching into the heavens. I imagine placing my hand on their tough, resilient bark, and feeling the strength of hundreds of redwoods flowing through the dirt beneath me.

Some days there are lessons we can learn from the redwoods. Some days we have to remind ourselves we can be resilient. Some days we have to remind ourselves we are never alone. Some days we have to remind ourselves there are others to reach out to. And some days we need to simply sit, close our eyes, and imagine the serenity of the redwoods.