“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. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
So what’s the difference between a Freemason and a Giant Sequoia?
I hope you weren’t waiting for a punch line; that wasn’t a riddle. It turns out that the answer is, “A lot less than you might think.”
In coastal California where the conditions are right, the Giant Sequoia tree can typically grow to be over 200 feet tall, with several having been documented at well over three hundred feet. Amazingly, a tree of this height typically would have root system that does not penetrate much deeper than eight feet. So how does a tree that is more than a football field high manage to survive the strong coastal winds with such a shallow root system? They do something very interesting. Instead of a deep taproot anchoring them to the ground, they send shallow roots more than a hundred feet outward. In a redwood forest, the trees are closer together than that, so that when one examines closely, he will find the roots of several trees interlocked with one another. You see, they do not rely on their individuality, but their interconnectedness, to give them strength.
While Masonry is in many ways a truly individual journey, a Mason, just like the Sequoia, needs to rely on his Brothers for strength. That strength can come in many forms. Depending on where each man finds himself in his Masonic pilgrimage, it can be defined as the patience of a mentor with a frustrated student, the encouragement of a Master to his Officers, the Charity of the Lodge to a Brother in need, or the strong grip of a friend helping us back to our feet after we have stumbled.
You see, for Masonry to thrive, there must exist a willingness for one to receive support as well as the ability for another to give it. In practice, it requires you to be both penitent and confessor as the situation dictates. Too often, we feel as though we are the first, last and only man to be battling the demon before us. In truth, at any given Masonic function, there are probably several people who have struggled with a similar situation, be it work, family, illness or anything else that could befall a man today. Being part of a strong community necessitates giving freely of your strengths to your Brothers and supplementing your weaknesses with their assistance thereby growing as a group.
Sequoias are often found growing in distinctly shaped groups; either in a line, or a circular pattern called a cathedral. The trees growing in a line come from a parent tree that has fallen down. Those branches that are pointing upward after the parent has fallen will actually begin to root and become trees in their own right, each one becoming separate and distinct from the original tree that fell. In the same way, we introduce good and upright men to Freemasonry with the hope that when we leave this earthly home, they will stay behind. And if their thoughts are focused heavenward (meaning we have taught them well), they too will grow to become the leaders of our Lodges and keep this great Fraternity alive.
The trees growing in a circular pattern, or cathedral, are trees that have sprung up from the roots of a fallen tree. Though the body of the parent tree is gone, the roots see to it that the community carries on by sending up saplings. As these saplings begin to root, they are able to weave themselves quickly into the already intricate root system of the parent plant, giving themselves immediate support to grow straight and true. In the same way, Masons, as we labor, provide support for future generations by leaving behind a strong foundation. If each of us is true to our calling, we will leave behind a strong foundation upon which each successive generation can build.
Another interesting adaptation of the Sequoia is its ability to take in water through its leaves. You see, these trees can grow nearly anywhere, but the area of coastal California where they thrive has a peculiar type of climate. In areas without regularly occurring fog, the tree’s height is limited to the distance it can push water vertically from the root system toward the upper leaves, but the near constant morning fogs of that region allow the upper leaves to supply their own water by pulling it from the heavy air, thereby allowing the trees there to grow to heights unattainable in any other place.
So it is with Masonry. It is possible to go through life without thinking about whence we came or whither we travel, and often that is exactly what we see in the world. However, the man who stops and ponders those questions, the man who realizes he comes from something greater than himself and has a duty to his Creator to be the best man he can be – that man begins to use the upper leaves of his intellect to not just survive but to thrive. Just like the roots supplying water, we bring some light and knowledge to our new members, but it is not until those men begin to use their own intellect, discerning life’s important truths for themselves, that they truly grow to their fullest potential as men worthy of the name Freemason.
So, Modern Vitruvian, is your root system spread out far enough? If not, strive to give more support to your Lodge and Valley. Have you done enough to introduce worthy men to this Fraternity? If not, resolve to, for we are never more than a generation from extinction. Make sure you are helping to build the strong foundation for the future – leaving behind a cathedral in which other worthy men can dwell. Lastly, remember always that we are here by the grace of the Great Architect of the Universe and to Him we will each someday return; that our time here is to be used shaping the ashlar of our lives. Each action we take either helps or hurts that process. Promise yourself that if you are the only Mason someone knows, that person will look up to you as he would a Sequoia – as a giant among men, towering over a forest of mediocrity below.