About 1,500 years before the birth of Christ, a sequoia seedling sprouted in what would much later become the State of California in a country called the U.S.A. The product of that spectacular germination is still standing, still living, still going about the business of being a giant sequoia. It is the most massive living thing on earth.

It makes me feel humble and temporary to appreciate a life-span of 3,500 years. Just for a sprinkle of perspective, let’s remember that about the time that promising seedling poked its crown above the earth, men were tinkering with the first alphabet . In the Europe of the Bronze Age, a construction project called Stonehenge was about half finished. As the tree reached the end of its second century of life, Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt. I could go on for the rest of the whole magazine and still not set down a decent list of all the works and worries of humankind that flickered briefly and passed into history while that tree was reaching farther into the sky.

But if the works of men are fleeting, we fiercely retain the notion that we are the finest of living things and have dominion over all the others . It took real brass, it seems to me, for some white men to come across that giant in 1852 and make the claim that it was finally discovered. Even without hard research, we can guess that quite a few generations of Indians had noticed that something unusual was going on in the tree line. And having given this magnificent creature the nobility of discovery, our forefathers decided to name it the General Sherman.

Here, brass turns to irony. Nothing against William Tecumseh Sherman, I rush to add, but why did we slap the name of any mortal on a living thing that so far transcends our own limited notions of duration?

Oh, the Indians probably had some names for it, and nothing in our science tells us that the tree cared one way or the other. We do need lists and labels to order our lives, so the General Sherman it is—for now, anyway

Speaking of lists, there is one you might like to add to . It is the National Registry of Big Trees, and we show some of the leaders of the list in the following photos. If you think you have a candidate worthy of mention, you might write to: Director, National Big Tree Program, American Forestry Association, 1319 18th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

But, as the article makes clear, the trees on that list are very serious trees, giants of their kind. They are survivors, blessed with having taken root in felicitous soil. They have eluded disease and fire and the ax and all the other ills that trees are heir to. So it will not be enough to propose a tree because you carved a girl’s initials in it or because it supports your summer hammock . Those are merely friendly trees, on their way to nobility, perhaps, but not there yet.

                                                                               David Maxey

                                                                              Managing Editor

redwood tree

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