Redwood – Introduction

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“The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe.”

~John Steinbeck

Redwood trees are the largest trees on the planet. They can live for thousands of years, and their sheer size cannot be grasped in a photo or written word. Having visited a redwood tree forest myself, any description I put here can never replace the in-person experience of having one tower over you, another jaw dropped in awe at the sheer power of a single tree. Redwood forests have been a destination for people from all over the world, with the experience being equal parts selfish joy and selfless wonder. Something so big and ancient that makes us feel so small and infantile. It is a similar feeling to that of being surrounded by endless ocean or towering mountains, and having a moment of clarity and realization of just how truly miniscule we are. The power of the redwood to either move us to silence, or as I’m doing, move us to words, is by definition remarkable.  

Like every tree, redwoods need a specific environment in order to thrive. They need abundant rain for most of the year. They need temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold. And they need fog to protect them from the summer heat. One of the most fascinating things about a redwood’s environment is their root system. Redwood roots don’t grow very deep, which you’d think they’d need in order to stabilize their sheer height. Instead they have shallow root systems that stretch for one hundred or more feet from the trunk, growing close to other redwoods, and allowing their roots to intertwine. This shallow and intertwined root system strengthens and stabilizes the entire group. What is lost in depth is gained in spades by their own community of redwoods – one of the many nuanced factors that help a redwood become what it is capable of becoming.  

But what would happen if you grew a redwood alone in a pot?

For the first year or two it would be just fine, growing a few feet per year. But after that the tree would naturally outgrow its’ potted surroundings and would have to be planted in the ground. If it stayed in the pot the redwood’s growth would stunt and eventually it wouldn’t survive. With a simple change in where it’s planted the redwood would go from one of the most powerful, awe-inspiring sights on the planet to something much less remarkable.

Humans are much the same way. Our growth as individuals is dependent upon where we plant ourselves, and the environment we provide ourselves for growth. Thankfully for us, we get to choose these conditions. As Elon Musk puts it,

If you want to grow a giant redwood, you need to make sure the seeds are ok, nurture the sapling, and work out what might potentially stop it from growing all the way along. Anything that breaks it at any point stops that growth.”

This book explores the idea of our own human potential, and is broken down into three sections: Environment, Growth, and Remarkability.

The Environment section explores the external factors in our lives that have internal implications. Everything from the city we live in, to the friends we keep, to the media we consume shapes our mindset and therefore shapes our reality. It is easy for us to think that our growth is purely dependent upon the willpower we force upon it. That we can use work ethic and sheer determination to overcome our surroundings. But this thought is inaccurate, or at best incomplete. Much like a redwood’s growth will stagnate outside of its optimal environment, so will ours. Surviving isn’t the same as thriving, and environment is how we move from the former to the latter.

The Growth section goes one step beyond environment, and into the habits, resources, and tools we have at our disposal to go from leading a small life to leading a big life. Environment can be considered the foundation of a life well lived, and growth is how we amplify and accelerate that foundation into the best possible version of ourselves. We live in a time when virtually any information we could ever dream of is at our fingertips. And that information is power. Power to transform, power to grow, power to become. When you combine a positive, energizing environment with intentional pressure applied to growth, the possibilities for what our lives can become increases exponentially.

You may have read those first two section titles without pause, and been caught off guard slightly by the last – Remarkability. Redwoods aren’t the only trees in the world that need a specific environment and conditions to grow. In fact that’s pretty much every tree. But what makes redwoods what they are, after their environment has fostered their growth, is the sheer remarkability of them. As Steinbeck put it, “from them comes silence and awe”. This is not just the insignia of a remarkable tree, but also the insignia of a remarkable life. We’ve all encountered people in our lives who leave us wondering what it is this person possesses that others don’t. They leave you intrigued long after the fact, and their life stands as something to emulate or strive for. Most of these people that touch our lives and leave us with this positive state of awe are not the people we might think, like athletes, celebrities, and anyone else in the spotlight (although they certainly can be). Instead most of these people are like you and me, who at first glance appear to be leading a mostly unremarkable life, but when the layers are peeled back the sheer enormity and power of their life leaves us with jaw slightly open, wondering how they got to where they are, and inspired to become that better version of ourselves. These are the traits of the remarkable.

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