Posted by: Transform Limiting Beliefs | April 27, 2012

Born Free: A Sapling Breaks Out

Almost 10 years ago, environmental activist and dear friend Julia Butterfly Hill, gave my husband and me a gift, a tiny redwood sapling, in a humble 3 inch clay pot.  It was at once an unusual gift and an understandable one: Julia spent more than 2 years living 180 feet up in an ancient redwood to focus the world’s attention on the near extinction of majestic, old growth redwoods.  Less than 3% of these giants still have their roots in the ground; 97% are now backyard decks or cabinetry.

For the first two years of that little redwood’s life, the sapling tolerated its tiny pot, getting its water not just from rain, but from our automated sprinkler system.  It lived in the shadow of what was then a towering yellow rose bush.  Gradually, its roots cracked that pot and we transplanted it into an extra-large garden pot, thinking (egoistically), that the tree had found its permanent home.  Our “plan” was to control that redwood, to keep it contained, constrained and orderly.  Years passed.  The tree grew from about 6 inches, to about 3 feet, sprouting fresh, green branches and beginning to sport the tell-tale bark of a redwood.

Last fall, as we were rearranging the pots in the garden, we noticed that the tenacious redwood had other plans.  Its root system had broken free of the pot, crumbling its base entirely.  And when we tried to lift its potted home to relocate the tree, we bore witness to its power:  its roots had made their way through the pot and through the thick patio bricks, seeking the solidity of the Earth.

We called an arborist.  Should we try and replant the tree into yet a bigger pot?  Should we transport it to a park where others of its kind lived, you know, so it could have company?  Could we plant it in our front yard, where 100 years from now, new inhabitants of our home could marvel at its majesty?

Our tree-whisperer opined that the redwood could indeed be at home in our front yard, but only after we cleared some underbrush and pruned some other nearby trees to ensure that its branches received sun.  And so we did.

When we planted that redwood in the ground, we could almost hear it breathe a sigh of relief.  Free at last!  Within a couple of weeks, we began seeing new bark, new branches, and a happier sapling.  Now, less than a year later, that tree stands proud at nearly ten feet tall, its base branches extending out more than three feet in all directions, new light green growth evident throughout its thriving being.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this tree’s quest for freedom or by its tenacity.  After all, the person who gave it to us had the courage to do what no other human had done: she refused to come down from a very inhospitable 6 by 8 foot platform high in a remote forest until she got an agreement that “her” tree, and many in proximity to it, would be saved from the lumberjack’s saw.

So on this Arbor Day, I remain in awe of the power and majesty of the humble sapling and eternally grateful that trees need no-one to tell them that they must be allowed to have their roots dig deep into the Earth to be strong.  In the meantime, we humans keep expanding our concrete jungles, covering over more and more ground in our quest to conquer nature. There’s a lesson in there for us, don’t you think?

EDA Co-Founder, Ina Pockrass


  1. What a lovely story. It reminds me a little of a quote from one of my favorite tree books (A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us): “It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house. Even in this one lifetime, you will have to choose. That great calm being or this clutter of soup pots and books — already the first branch-tips brush at the window. Softly, calmly, immensity tugs at your life.” — Jane Hirshfield

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