Think like a redwood tree
February 27, 2020
I’ve got a 2020 calendar with 12 photos of redwood trees. I love to be reminded every day of the long perspective, multiple times, as I look up over my computer screen and see photos of giant, long-lived trees.
On a trip down the California coast we pulled off Highway 101 to see a giant redwood tree. The signs all said “to the big tree.” We walked down a short path, following the “big tree” signs, laughing a little at the signage. When we reached the tree, we automatically looked up, and said, “That’s a big tree!” We couldn’t help it. And everyone else who arrived while we were there said, “That’s a big tree!” It’s 286 feet high and at least 1500 years old. The tree started growing in the Dark Ages!
In the middle of anxiety-producing breaking news, big trees remind us there’s a longer time frame than our day-to-day life. Ancient trees have survived it all. They, too, face threats like fire and climate change. Age is no guarantee of survival. However, these trees have lasted through more change than we will ever see, no matter how long we live.
In the middle of anxiety-producing breaking news, big trees remind us there’s a longer time frame than our day-to-day life. Ancient trees have survived it all.
We have a park in my neighborhood with big old trees. Sometimes, especially when things are tough, I walk down there and simply touch the bark on the trees. They aren’t 1500 years old, but they’ve been growing at least 100 years. They help me keep perspective on the global ups and downs and my personal drama, whatever it might be.
When something comes up that worries you or raises your anxiety, try asking yourself, “Will this matter in a hundred years?” Even better, ask, “Will it matter in a thousand years?” In some cases, like climate change, the answer is indeed yes. In others, like global violence, there could be long-term implications in a century. In those cases, the question is: What am I called to do now about this? This is different from fussing and fuming about what we can’t control.
In many cases—like the internet being out or a traffic jam or an argument with someone—the answer is no. It won’t matter in a thousand years, or even a hundred years. Or next year. I can breathe, step back, and think about what is my work in this moment.
A tree’s work is to grow. And when it dies, it still has work—to decay and provide fertilizer for future trees and for the forest as a whole. Another giant tree fell after a rainstorm in 1991. It’s still visible, decomposing and providing food for new growth.
Here are some ideas for thinking like a redwood tree:
–Make your computer or phone wallpaper a redwood tree. Use it as a daily reminder to keep the long view.
–When you have an anxious thought or read an anxious headline, stand up. Feel your feet as they touch the ground. Breathe. Breathe again. I guarantee you will feel calmer and more able to deal with the challenge ahead.
–Write down what you want to “fertilize” in the future, for the rest of your life and even after you are gone.