Life lessons from the 2,000-year-old Sequoia sempervirens
The giant Redwood trees that grow along the forested California coast are known to survive as long as 2,000 years and grow to heights among the tallest trees in the world. “Majestic,” “towering,” and “mighty” are just a few common adjectives used to describe these trees by anyone who’s camped beneath them, and walked among them (or through them).
There are two species of Redwood within driving distance of my home here in the Silicon Valley: the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) just over the mountain in Santa Cruz and down the Monterey coast; and the Sierra Redwood (Sequoia gigantea), which grow in the mid-state mountains ranges near Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Park.
The Family Tree
Perhaps the most humanly-relatable and admired trait of the Coast Redwood is its notion of “family.” Like people, Coast Redwood trees stick together, literally, often growing in ring shaped groves with a deep, interconnected root system.
They thrive in the presence of multiple generations. A fallen Redwood tree can give birth to a whole new generation of trees, growing in a line along the horizontal trunk.
This familial connection comes in handy when the water wains. A shared underground root system provides checks and balances for survival in the face of drought, passing water and nutrients between them.
Through millennia, evolution has also made them resistant to insect attack, fungal infection, rot, and most importantly: forest fire.
From fire comes new life
In response to forest fires, the trees have developed various adaptations. The thick, fibrous bark of coast redwoods is extremely fire-resistant; it grows to at least a foot thick and protects mature trees from fire damage… In addition, the redwoods contain little flammable pitch or resin. If damaged by fire, a redwood readily sprouts new branches or even an entirely new crown, and if the parent tree is killed, new buds sprout from its base. Fires, moreover, appear to actually benefit redwoods by causing substantial mortality in competing species while having only minor effects on redwood. Burned areas are favorable to the successful germination of redwood seeds.source: wikipedia
Man v. Tree:
But leave it to 21st century Mankind to test the resilience of the mighty Redwood. Decades of mis-management and neglect, over-population, and human-induced climate change has led to this summer’s historic inferno wildfires raging across the West, form Los Angeles to Big Sur to Santa Cruz to Santa Rosa to Paradise to Portland.
As the orange haze of smoke and ash blanket the West Coast this week, I have been thinking a lot lately about solutions to reduce the risk of massive forest fires. I believe we need to invest in a WPA-level project to manage forests and reclaim our skies from toxic smoke.
I’m genuinely curious what the physical requirements would be to reset the situation and bring the West Coast forests back to safe management. How many people would it take? With how many chainsaws and trucks? Over how many days?
I follow a woodworker named Mac McComb on Instagram, whose woodwork I was introduced to while attending a student gallery show at California College of the Art. Mac posted an essay this week on Instagram that gets to the heart of the problem of forest management: We ignored our role in maintaining this fragile ecosystem, coddled and neglected it, and failed all of us in the long run.
P.S. On a lighter note, I recommend you follow CCA on Instagram. If for nothing else, because it makes me chuckle every time I mis-read their handle @cacollgeofarts as “California College o’ Farts.”