Redwood National Forest is not listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but I believe that it is more wonderful than any man-made monuments. The redwood is the common name for a tree in the genus Sequoia in the Cypress family, Cupressaceae. Its scientific name is Sequoia sempervirens (sempervirens means “ever-living, or evergreen”). Other common names include Coast redwood, Coastal redwood, and California redwood. The California redwood is native to the northern California coastal region and extends its native habitat northward into Oregon. Before 1850, the redwood forest extended for 2,100,000 acres. Now, only 5% of that forest remains.
I am blown away by the sheer magnificence of this tree. It is an evergreen, meaning that its needles remain green year-around. And with redwoods, “ever-living,” is more a reality than one would imagine, as they can live for 2,000-3,000 years. The oldest known redwood is roughly 2,200 years old. These ancient sentinels are also the tallest trees on earth. The tallest known redwood is named Hyperion, was discovered in 2006, and stands at about 379 feet tall. Its location is secret so that people will not seek to destroy it. Redwoods are so tall that their upper branches often extend beyond the cloud line and are lost from view. They are partial to the Northern California coastal climate because 40% of their water intake happens as they “sip fog.”
While redwoods are behemoths, standing nearly the length of a baseball field from home plate to the outfield fence, their pinecones are only about 1” long. How can something so huge come from such a little tiny seed in a little tiny pinecone?
Redwoods are named for the color of their bark, which is vibrantly red in hue. The bark is roughly 12” thick and contains no flammable pitch or resin. This adaptation makes redwoods somewhat fire-resistant in comparison to other evergreens. The diameter of the average redwood trunk is about 30’ (about half the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate or the height of an average two-story home).
Another unique feature of the redwood is the shallowness of its roots. For such a tall tree, its roots don’t go very deep. Instead, the roots extend outward to about 100’ (10’ more than the distance between the bases on a baseball field). As the roots extend outward, they intertwine with the roots of other nearby redwoods. Some say that this intertwining mass of roots makes the redwood forest the largest living organism on earth. What is even more fascinating is that among the forest of these red giants, there are roughly 400 smaller redwoods that are completely devoid of color. They are called “ghost redwoods.” These ghosts are eerily white and have found to be full of noxious metals like cadmium, copper, nickel and other metals. Scientists believe that these ghost redwoods act as reservoirs for poison as they leech harmful metals from the surrounding soil, water and air, protecting the forest at large. In return, the larger “red” trees supply the sugars that the ghost trees need to survive through this intertwining root system. And if these amazing qualities are not enough to cause you to praise God for His creative flair and attention to detail, the redwood forest is essential to all life on this planet. It stores roughly three times more carbon than any other forest on earth. Amazing!
I know this is a lot of information about the redwood forest…I admit that I had a great time researching the topic and I couldn’t help myself! I could compare the redwood forest to the interconnectedness of Christ’s body—the followers of Christ. I could talk about the strength that we provide for one another, the example, and the nourishment and support. I could compare the height of the redwoods to the height of God’s love for us (Romans 8) as he was raised high on the cross. I could note the sacrificial nature of God’s love for us, demonstrated in his very own Son, Jesus Christ and compare that sacrifice to those ghost redwoods soaking in the poison of the world so that the forest could continue to thrive while all the while they are dying. I could talk about the power of the thick redwood bark as it protects the trees from destruction by fire, especially when fire is the one thing needed to open its pinecones. I could talk about the branches that are high in the clouds that support dirt mats so thick that trees 40’ tall grow on those cloud branches. I could compare those other ecosystems that the redwoods support to the faith we have in Christ that can grow and thrive and produce fruit anywhere it is nurtured. But I won’t 😉. Wait…I just did.
What I’d rather do is to focus our attention on the sheer majesty of the whole redwood forest, and all that it is. Let’s recognize the expansive nature of the world’s largest living organism. It is a skyward-reaching, fog-sipping, rooted and intertwined mass of oxygen-producing life-giving God-created magnificence. It is something that stands in our world and demonstrates the utter awesomeness of God. How could we stand before such a creation and not praise the one who created it? How could we look up at its branches disappearing into the heavens and not worship the one who reached down to us? How could we know about all that this organism has survived for nearly 3,000 years and not trust in the promises of the God who has been and always will be? The prophet Jeremiah (17: 7-8) said, “Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” It is mind-boggling that this gigantic living thing sprouts from a seed smaller than my fingernail. But my God made it so. I will visit the redwood forest one day. I dream of standing among those trees and singing praise to God. “Indescribable—uncontainable…You are amazing, God!”
Questions for Reflection:
- If you were to expand one of the comparisons above, which one speaks most loudly to you? How would you go about it?
- What makes or has made you stand in awe of God’s majesty? Why?
- Go and stand at the trunk of the biggest tree in your area. Imagine the height, the diameter of the trunk, the intertwined root system, the size of the trees growing in the redwoods’ dirt mats in comparison to your tree, the color and the age of the mighty redwood next to your tree. Now think of your own size in comparison. What comes to mind?
Creative God, how majestic is your name! You have created the massive life force of the redwood forest and you have created the small, intricate body of the tiniest insects—all with purpose, all interconnected, all for love. As we make our way expectantly through this Advent season on the way to Christmas, help us to stand in awe and smile in wonder at all that you have made. Amen.