There are some things on earth that are so magnificent that they stop you in your tracks. All you can do is gaze upon it in awestruck wonder. That’s what we felt upon seeing our first giant sequoia tree.
These trees are just massive! Reaching a height of over 25 stories, with a diameter of 25 feet or more, these are the largest single trees in the world. In fact, we saw the “Largest Tree In The World”, the General Sherman tree in the Sequoia National Park. There are taller trees, there are wider trees, but this is the largest in sheer volume.
The story of these trees is quite interesting. They require just the right conditions for optimal growth – not too wet or dry, not too cold or hot, at an altitude around 5,000 – 7,000 feet, with sufficient space around it to grow. These conditions are found in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When they do have that magic combination, they grow and grow, for years and years. Hundreds and thousands of years. The oldest known was estimated to be around 3500 years old! Whoa. The sequoia trees we wandered under were standing tall when Jesus walked the earth.
Unfortunately, before they were protected by a national park, many of these special trees were cut down. From the 1880’s to the 1920’s, logging was conducted in many groves. However, the wood is fibrous and brittle, and generally unsuitable for construction purposes. Due to the brittleness, the giant logs often simply shattered upon hitting the ground. Ultimately, the logging companies went out of business, leaving a sad trail of huge stumps in their wake. But by that time, public outcry caused most of the remaining groves to be preserved as protected land.
When sequoia trees sprout, they shoot up quickly to their full height of up to 275 feet. After that, they no longer grow taller, they just get wider. I resemble that. For such a tall tree, the root system is quite shallow, only 5-6 feet deep. However, the roots spread over several acres, intertwining with other trees’ roots, to help the trees stay upright. Most sequoia trees die by simply falling over. If the roots get damaged, or the soil is too wet, the massive tree can begin to lean and ultimately topple over. I guess after 3000 years, I’d be tired and fall over too.
Fire plays a crucial role in the sequoia life cycle. Sequoia seeds are found in small green cones sprouting from the upper branches. These green cones can wait patiently for up to 30 years for a forest fire, which dries and opens the cones to release the seeds. Fire also clears underbrush and creates bare, ashy soil that is needed for seeds to sprout. For the first years of park management, fires were viewed as “bad” and prevented/stopped. But they found preventing fires also inhibited the seeding of new, baby trees. Now they allow for controlled natural or prescribed burning in the park so that the natural reproduction cycle can continue.
It’s a metaphor for our life, I think. We view the “fires” in our life (troubles and trials) as bad, something to be prevented or stopped. Yet, sometimes the fires force us to clear away the extraneous underbrush choking up our life. Only then will we have the space, and fertile soil, to plant something new.
I’ll share more about the Sequoia National Park later, but I felt these incredible giant trees deserved their own post.