A lesson from the Sequoias – growing tall, straight, and strong …



One hundred fifty million years ago, give or take, giant Sequoias and Redwoods grew throughout the United States. By the turn of the 20th Century, Paul Bunyan’s friends had logged these giant trees nearly out of existence. In 1907, only a relatively few, small tracts of land north of San Francisco, California, with Sequoias and their nearest relatives, the Redwoods, remained. A concerned Congressman, William Kent, bought a tract of land in Redwood Canyon, California, and donated it to the United States Government. In 1908, President Teddy Roosevelt declared the stand of Sequoias and Redwoods a National Monument. Mr. Kent insisted the Monument be named after John Muir, whose poetic, persuasive writings and tireless campaigns led to the establishment of the national park system. It was John Muir who said,

“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.“

Teddy Roosevelt agreed and Muir Woods as a National Monument became a reality.

The Sequoias grow tall (over 350 feet), develop slowly, and live long – from 500 to 800 years old on the average. The oldest of the Sequoias, known as the “Grizzly Giant,” came into being in 1500 B.C. To put that into perspective, King Tut was entombed in 1323 B.C. The Great Wall of China started in 221 B.C. Sequoia National Park was established in 1890.

We have previously written in these blogs about the population growth pressures on our Everglades eco-systems here in Florida. The same sorts of pressures are laid on the few giant Sequoias that remain. Sequoias have shallow root systems. They grow slowly. They rely on their neighboring stands of fir, pine and cedars to retain water for their requirements and to protect them against erosion and high winds. If the Sequoias neighboring fir, pines and cedars fall prey to logging, development or other destruction, nature’s complex system of interdependency of species becomes contaminated and, on their own, the Sequoias won’t make it.

The Smithsonian has put out a plea for “tree huggers” like me to write to the United States Forestry Service, encouraging the Service to deny the current press from lumber companies to log the tree stands next to the Sequoia National Monument, since the logging of the fir, pine and cedar trees that would be destroyed – the Sequoia‘s support system – will lead to the demise of the Sequoias in the Monument. Similarly, Audubon has a plea for us to urge Congress to not cut funding that would cripple the Environmental Protection Agency and the Land and Water Conservation Fund – which face dramatic budgetary cuts.

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

The story of this blog is not a plea for money from our readers to support Smithsonian or Audubon. Those decisions can be made individually. This story continues our inquiry into decision making, our human thought processes. The discussion about the press on the Sequoias is background. When supported, Sequoias grow tall, strong, and beautiful. But their growth takes time, it is not quick. It also takes the support from the neighboring firs, pines and cedars, as described above. They can’t make it alone.

As I walked through Muir Woods last month, I could not help but think of how the growth and development of our young should parallel nature’s built-in support, growth and development of the Sequoias. Of course, I don’t mean that it should take 500 or so years for children to maturate. But a child’s maturation is not instantaneous, or quick and easy. It is a nurtured, experiential process that should take some time. In addition to time, a child’s development needs nurturing parents and real-life experiences as their support system.

Since we are concerned about our ecology, David Sobel’s essay, Beyond Ecophobia, is illuminating about the ecological education of our children. I discussed his essay in our blog, Gone Fishin’. The essay is important enough to consider again, in a slightly different context.

Sobel’s concern is that today’s children receive little if any of their education from an experience with our environment. Despite their eduction about our world through electronic media, our children are disconnected from the world outside their doors. The result is ecophobia, a fear of nature, rather than ecophilia, a love of nature. Ecophobia can lead to decisions about our environment that, in the long run are not good for us or our environment.

Sobel says that we educate our children by “abstraction” too early – we rush their familiarity with the world at large without them developing within themselves a frame of reference that could be provided by a walk in the woods and fields that are outside their doors. We don’t allow them to develop slowly, as the Sequoias have developed, with a solid support system.

The result is a paradox, a phobia, a fear of the natural world and of being out of doors. (We reported the issues in our Power of Play blog as well as in Gone Fishin’. But let us continue to add to our previous discussions … )

The February 21, 2011 issue of Time Magazine includes an article titled Wired for Distraction? The article reports that the average child, age 8 to 18, spends over eleven hours a day using electronic media. The effect is that the brains of children and young adults are becoming wired for distraction, not self-control, concentration, or long-term thought development, necessary for problem-solving. A similar article was published in the New York Times November 21, 2010.

Beyond controlling ecophobia, a child’s ability to concentrate and develop self-control at a young age goes a long way in helping the child have a healthy, successful adult life. Time Magazine reported in January, 2011, Self-Control: The Key to Health and Wealth, that, according to a study published by the University of Chicago, those children who fail to develop basic skills of self-control and concentration at an early age “were roughly three times as likely by adulthood to report having multiple health problems and addictions, earning less than $20,000 a year, becoming a single parent or committing a crime than kids with the most self-control.“

Sobel wisely observes:

“Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said ‘the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”

A lesson for the learning.

For children to grow tall, straight and strong like the Sequoias, it takes time and the support of real-time experiences, a pace that fosters self-control, and parents willing to mentor their development.

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8 Comments on "A lesson from the Sequoias – growing tall, straight, and strong …"

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Aaaah…thank you for the lovely photos – you just took me there!

Dick: I have loved these woods since I was a kid growing up in the Bay Area . Now whenever I go back to northern California I always try to spend an afternoon in the Redwoods.. Breathing in their strength and beauty. It is so important that we don’t let these amazing trees leave us.. Thanks for notifying us about the efforts to save them . Kami

As always, very inciteful, an enhanced with your beautiful photography. Thank you…it’s always a pleasure to read one of your articles. Children naturally love to run and play in the outdoors…it us up to their parents, teachers, and caregivers to encourage a balance of experience as their children develop and mature. Throughout our schools, educators havee witnessed a shortening of the attention span in their students. A generation ago, we learned that television, with its schedule of commercial interuptions, effected our children’s concentration level and attention span. This generation suffers yet another blow to their learning process and concentration level… Read more »

Enlightening, as always.
Makes me feel better personally about being “slow to grow.”

Hi, We enjoy the text and photos.
cheers, Hannah

Hi, We enjoy the text and photos.
cheers, Hannah

Could not agree more with your remarks about rushing kids and the overuse of electronic media. People sometimes comment on the apparently “long” attention spans of our three children. Though not always noticeable to me, I attribute their ability to concentrate to the serious limits we placed on their TV and computer time at an early age. Controlling that has become more difficult as they get older, but they are still happy to wander the woods, fringe areas or shoreline “doing nothing”; staring into the water or a clump of moss, any time it’s possible. Thanks for your blog, I… Read more »

I love it – great photos too. Lori.