Redwood trees have always impressed me. From a seed no bigger in size than a tomato seed, they grow as tall as 35 story buildings. In fact, their height helps them survive in dry seasons as it helps them live on only the moisture they are able to extract from fog. Condensing the mist against their trucks, redwoods create fog drips that cool and roll down grooves in their bark flowing down the length of the tree to the roots that nurture it. Resistant to insects, able to withstand fires and floods, subject to no diseases, they endure for ages with no natural enemies but man.
You probably know all of that, but I recently learned something from a business training model about redwoods that surprised me…and set me to thinking.
SunnyFortuna.com tells us: “You would think that a 350-foot-tall tree would need deep roots, but that’s not the case at all with the Sequoia sempervirens. Redwood tree roots are very shallow, often only five or six feet deep. But they make up for it in width, sometimes extending up to 100 feet from the trunk. They thrive in thick groves, where the roots can intertwine and even fuse together. This gives them tremendous strength against the forces of nature. This way they can withstand high winds and raging floods.”
So, redwoods do not survive alone…ever. They form “tribes” or communities. Sometimes they grow so close to each other they merge at the base into one tree. The first thing they provide each other is strength and support: intertwining roots. Not deep, but wide, living in an embrace of others.
The merged roots also meet their needs for nurture. The entire system relies on their rooted connections.
(Left twin merged sequoia, to the right, three united trees.)
On the National Park System sequoia page I found out that “The coast redwood environment recycles naturally; because the annual rainfall leaves the soil with few nutrients, the trees rely on each other, living and dead for their vital nutrients.” (nps.gov) As a redwood tree dies, it decays and the nutrients it has absorbed over the ages are released back into the community through the roots, nourishing the other trees. And the community replaces that member by sending a new sprout up from their roots.
It’s no wonder that redwoods have inspired the latest “organizational culture” model, a new Fish Philosophy, Who Moved My Cheese, Star Thrower, Open Source look at what creates success in corporate management. The sequoia “business” model guarantees enduring success and sustains massive growth….but only if the trees work as a team and support each other. The critical key to survival and growth is interdependence. (Right Sequoia tribe tree)
But I think this is a lesson that is applicable not just to business but to our own need for communities, individually and as nations. Like the redwoods, we cannot survive alone. People do need alone time, and space for individualism to be content and personally creative, but there are moments in a life that also needs friends and neighbors and groups of like-minded people. We need others to help us think past what we can alone, to help us solve life problems, to share their strength in our times of need. I would argue that this redwood kind of inter-reliance is needed for health, individual and collective, for us all to survive and thrive.
Even spiritually, as much as I value meditation time, walks at the ocean alone with “Intimations of Immorality” on my mind, I am refreshed by deep talks with others, friends and family. I need them to challenge my thought and nourish my spirit, and for me, as well, I need the comforting ritual, the remembered songs and prayers, the heart and mind community of a worshipping family of faith to nourish me.
I think when we and our world withdraw our roots…try to restrict them to me and mine, we make an egregious mistake. Withdrawing and distancing from others does not make us stronger. We hurt ourselves, limit that which can nurture us, open ourselves to injuries that can only be survived by connections. Isolationism and xenophobia fuel hatred and blame. They are failed strategies that lead more often to war than to the safety they promise.
In the face of Britain’s exit from the EU, where Populism and promises of renewed national strength spoke to many, I would warn them and those here in the US who echo the same arguments to take a look at what happens when loggers cut down redwoods. Not only are the trees they take killed, but the other redwoods that remain in the tribe often die. Without the missing trees to share water and nutrients, the remaining members becomes less healthy and sometimes cannot even survive.
Our world seems to scream at us that helping others hurts you, and standing alone is better than uniting together. Sometimes, while I do understand the fear of change and of the unknown, and the gut response to forces and politicians that inflame that fear, I wish I could get people to look up and out.
There are resources out there in the world still. They may not be mineral, or oil, as much as wind, sun, and PEOPLE.
America has always been made stronger by being united as states and united with the world. Accepting the gifts of those who came to our shores has added to our resources…even when they were poor when they came, like my grand parents. Just like love, which is not diminished when a new child is born into a family, but grows as it is divided among ever larger numbers, we grow our country by welcoming others. And it is in tough times, we most need to reach out into our tribes and communities, knot our roots into even tighter bonds and stand strong together against the fires that race towards us or the floods that threaten to wash us away.
To me, that is the lesson that rustles in the leaves, it’s the strength we can feel in our roots, it’s a model for living we can learn from the redwoods.