Strength From a Redwood Forest

April 2016

Greg Barrette

Greg Barrette was born and raised in Unity and serves as senior minister at Unity Northwest Church in Des Plaines, Illinois.

When James Dillet Freeman, Unity poet laureate and director of Silent Unity® for many years, traveled to California in 1989, he had a day to spare. What did he want to do with that time?

“I only want to see two things,” he said to me, “the ocean and a first-growth redwood forest.”

Why first-growth? What made these trees so special, besides the fact that they had not been cut down after hundreds of years? There were so many impressive second-growth trees that were much easier to get to. Some were 200 feet tall. Maybe they weren’t quite as large as the first-growth trees, but they were more extensive and closer to where we were.

“There is something different about those first-growth trees,” Freeman said. “They possess a special energy that I can feel. You know, you’ll never see a redwood standing alone; it would fall over. Their roots grow so close to the surface that it takes several of them to intertwine those shallow roots and remain standing. Redwoods are like us, I suppose. They find their strength in community.”

He was taking a rare break from giving daily care to his wife Billie, who had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for many years. At this point, she could not speak clearly, except for three words, “I love you,” which she would repeat to anyone who came to see her. And if you asked her to pray, she would immediately take your hands and break into a clear and spontaneous prayer that would always make the most heartfelt sense.

This time was a healing time for Freeman. He wanted to energize his soul and bring back some comfort and strength to Billie, whom he had left in good hands.

We visited the nearest first-growth stand of trees, the small Heritage Grove near La Honda. The cutters had missed it and so it had miraculously survived in its original state. As we walked in silence, he invited me to sense the vibration and energy of these ancient trees, some more than a thousand years old.

“These trees have a spiritual and healing power,” James said. “It reminds me of Silent Unity—strength in numbers. By ourselves we may not seem to have much, but together we support each other in staying upright.”

Years later, I took my teenaged kids to visit Big Basin, another grove of first-growth trees just a few miles away. I told them this story. My daughter, who had known Freeman as a little girl, smiled as she listened to it. Then she pointed out a sign that said “Father of the Forest.” It stood in front of a huge 2,000-year-old tree. My son found another sign that said “Mother of the Forest.” As I read the particulars of these two trees, I noticed “... the mother is taller but the father is older and fatter.” “Just like in our family!” was their response.

After our laughter quieted, we all stood there, wrapped in the energy and vibration built up by their intertwined roots. Just like in our family.