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  • Writer's pictureJill

Tested by Fire

This little guy has an important story to tell. What starts as a small pine cone, grows into one of the largest living things in the world, the Sequoiadendron giganteum, or Giant Sequoia.This weekend we hiked to a Redwood Grove in Mineral King, near the Atwell Mill Campground where many large, Giant Sequoias reside, and it filled me with awe, and certain sense of optimism about what is to come. I think there’s a metaphor here for our lives in this chaotic time.

Giant Sequoias are among the oldest living things on earth, with some specimens believed to be 3,200+ years old. In fact, Giant Sequoias have been recorded since prehistoric times. There’s something comforting in knowing that these trees have seen all of our ancestors struggle, thrive and continue on.

And what does 3,200 years of growth mean for the size of these massive trees? Record trees have been measured at 311 feet (29 stories!), with the average Redwood measuring around 200 feet. So tall that I had to bend waaay backwards in order to see the top! And the largest diameter Redwood is the General Sherman Tree – very near us here in Mineral King, at almost 30 feet across.

When I say that I think there’s a metaphor to be found in the lives of the Giant Sequoia, I mean that thinking about their lives, made me reflect on our lives right now, in today’s national crisis. And I believe that the lessons the Redwoods can teach us can provide perspective and calm, despite the adversities we face.

Five Lessons from the Redwoods

Tested by Fire. Giant Sequoias regenerate through seeds, seeds the size of oatmeal flakes. These seeds are enclosed in small pinecones, and are liberated when the cones are broken open from the extreme heat of a forest fire. So, no fire, no redwood.

Deposited in Rich Soil. Once the seeds are liberated, they germinate best buried in mineral soils in areas cleared by fire. The clean soil provides an undisturbed environment for optimal growth and minimal competition. Fertile ground provides the ability to thrive.

Competed for Resources. When the little trees begin to grow, they must compete with all of the other plant life, and trees, competing to regenerate after the fire. They are slow growing, and so often have a hard time fighting off the many competitors for sun and water.

You can see in this picture the competition that these Redwoods are experiencing. They have to fight to stay in the game.

Adapted for Success. Despite the tremendous obstacles, Giant Sequoias survive, in part because they have created adaptations for success. First, they have developed very thick bark (almost 2 inches) that is able to repel the death blow of a fire. Second, the bark contains a tannic acid which deters insects from chewing through the bark. Third, in heavy wind or rain, the brittle red bark allows the tree to drop limbs, while allowing the strong trunk to stay rooted. And last, when Sequoias can’t get all the water they need, they are able to intake moisture from their roots and from their leaves – they love the fog! Redwoods do not give up – they do whatever it takes to make sure that they survive.


We too, are being tested by fire, but we have the rich soil of our history, and our constitution to nurture and sustain us. We are being broken open by the calamitous events that ravage our land. But, we must fight hard to prevail despite those that want to use our resources for illegitimate reasons, and for this we must steel ourselves to our purpose. We must seek the sunshine, adapt to finding new ways to succeed, and feed our energies. We must develop a resistant mindset that helps us to not only fight, but also ignore that which causes our disequilibrium. If we can do this, we will be able to thrive despite the cataclysmic events that have occurred. Perhaps, like the Giant Sequoias, we can use these trials to become our better selves. Our best selves. “We have every reason to be optimistic, but no reason to be complacent” (Hubbell, 2017). Sequoias never are.

Hubbell, R. (2017). Today’s edition. Private Correspondence.


Jean Machamer
Aug 11, 2020

Beautiful explanation of Redwoods and the life lessons they provide for us. You and your husband have been gifts of encouragement throughout this Pandemic. Thank you!


Aug 11, 2020

I needed this message. Thank you.As a lifetime gardener, I have used the green world many times to part the dark curtain of anxiety. As a southerner, I have had scant contact with great trees of the west.Thank you for a powerful metaphor.

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