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Roots By Cheryl Hughes

St. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “You will learn more lessons in the woods than in books.  Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters.” 

One week ago, Sunday, our interim pastor at MCC, Nick Haught, spoke to the congregation about trees, specifically the Giant Sequoias, which grow on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.    He put a picture of one of the trees up on the screen.  It had fallen when its weight became too heavy to support.  What was striking about the picture of the tree was the root system.  The roots appeared to be only five to six feet in length.  My father operated a sawmill; subsequently I grew up in and around the woods.  I’ve seen trees toppled by wind storms.  Even medium sized trees had root systems as long or longer than those I was seeing in the picture of the Giant Sequoia

The oldest known Giant Sequoia lived 3500 years.  The oldest living Giant Sequoia, The General, is estimated to be 2100 years old with a weight of 2.7 million pounds.   The bark on these trees is three feet thick, which means they can withstand forest fires, fungus and whole gangs of insects.  Those facts are impressive, “but how can something that huge and that sturdy hold itself up with such a small root system?” you might ask.

Nick explained the paradox.  The Giant Sequoia doesn’t have a tap root.  Ninety-five percent of the tree grows above ground.  Its roots go only five to fifteen feet underground, but—and this is a huge “but”—their roots grab on to the roots of the other trees in the grove.  Sometimes, their roots extend 100 feet from their trunk.  When the wind howls up and down the Pacific Coast, like the wind tends to do in that area, these giants sway back and forth, the roots holding on to each other for support.  The entire grove shares the stress of each tree.  They literally keep one another upright.  This is nature teaching one of its most important lessons: Stand together.

I’ve seen human families and animal families practice the lesson of the Sequoia.  I’ve seen communities practice the lesson, as well.  Every group that has learned this lesson thrives.  Every group that has not, often perishes.  Contrary to the pervasive attitude of rugged individualism much of this country was founded on, we were never meant to bear the storms by ourselves.  Garey’s family knew this instinctively, mine did not.  I had to learn how to belong to a family, not compete for status, like I felt I had to do growing up in my family.  It took me too long to learn the Sequoia’s lesson , and my children suffered because of that ignorance.    Thank God for redemption.  Natalie, Nikki, Garey and I, as well as our granddaughter Sabria and our sons-in-law Scott and Thomas show up for one another when the storms strike unannounced.

When a Giant Sequoia dies, it takes only a fraction of its roots with it.  Most of its roots it leaves behind in the ground for the support of the other trees.  That is my favorite fact about that tree.  It reminds me of all the people who have gone before me, the people who have stood firm and made a way for me despite their own suffering.  They left a support system to help me stand tall and to put out roots for those who come behind me.  We are together in this growing, living, dying process—the grove of humanity.

(Information for this column came from the following sources: Nick Haught, sermon on November 17th at MCC, Morgantown;;;;




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