The Seed, the Sapling, and the Sequoia

My favorite time of year is when winter dissolves away and I begin my search for the magic and beauty that is Mother Nature and the emergence of new life. It inspires me in my work with students, and it also humbles me to know what little control we can have over those things that naturally unfold.

Much of my work involves observing and listening to students. There are times I am in awe of them—for their inherent wisdom and humor. Other times, the reality of the adolescent years is prominent, rife with vulnerability, ambiguity, and the harshness of the current state of the world. Add to that applying to college, and you have a recipe for a process that can feel like an unrelenting storm, rivaled only by the unpredictability and power of Mother Nature.

In the sharing of a simple story, we can weave together the magic of nature, children, and adolescents in line with the love that envelopes what can often feel like a cruel and unforgiving world. I have crafted this story because I am both an eternal optimist and a realist -maybe that comes from my background growing up in NJ or the experiences gleaned through athletic participation and observation. Or maybe, just maybe, it stems from my sincere desire to support students as they navigate a challenging, constantly evolving, but incredibly important process. I love everyone and everything around me, and I’ve grown to learn to accept the things we cannot change.

I also know hard work is essential in all processes, both desirable and undesirable. I believe that if there is any way to alter one’s growth and trajectory or influence an outcome, it starts with hard work combined with guidance and experience.

Once upon a time, in the care of Mother Nature, there was a seed, a tiny promise of life waiting to unfold.

“Mom, is it time yet?” she asked.

“Not yet; you’re too small,” her mother replied.

“When will I know? It’s dark and cold down here, and I want to experience something new.”

Carefully considering her answer, her mother replied, “In due time, you will rise up and break through the surface. And, when you do, I will watch over you.”

This seed, filled with potential and dreams of grandeur, yearned to grow into something magnificent. With the gentle touch of Mother Nature’s hand, the seed began its journey.
As time passed, the seed sprouted into a sapling, reaching towards the sky with determination and hope. The sapling eagerly absorbed the sunlight, water, nutrients, and soil provided by Mother Nature. Everything seemed perfect, as if there was nothing to fear. She always felt nourished by the soil and also comforted because her mother was always nearby.

As she grew, she recognized that there were others around her. Some were long and skinny; others had beautiful blossoms. Others were wide, and some leaned towards the water. There were some who struggled to get above the ground, while others lived by the rocks. Some saplings looked like her, but others did not. This made the sequoia sapling curious.

She asked her mom, “Are we all a family?”

Her mother replied, “Yes, in a way, you are all a family. However, each is different, and I am the mother to them all.”

The young sapling was excited, confused, and curious. She knew the others by the names her mother would call them, like Foxtail, Nutmeg, and Fir. She also heard the names Pacific Dogwood, Columbine, and Hazelnut. She recognized them and understood that they were all part of her forest. In many ways, they were similar, but she also saw the differences.

Like most young saplings, she focused on what she wanted to do, sometimes engaging with her sibling saplings and other times just trying to find the light. She would watch her sibling saplings closely, however. Excited at the possibility of a forest full of friends and sibling saplings, the young sapling would begin her ascent into the adolescent sapling world.

The adolescent sapling experienced a carefree life among other saplings. Little did she know she would face challenges along the way—too much water causing it to wilt, too much sun scorching its tender branches, inadequate soil stunting its growth, and predators lurking in the shadows. The scorch of the sun invoked a bit of pain, and the creatures lurking nearby caused fear and uncertainty. There were those awful times when a deluge of water would overcome some of the adolescent saplings close to the ground, never to be seen again, while she stood tall. Other times, she watched as the long, lean saplings would just sway in the heavy winds, bending and conforming to the challenges, unscathed by these events, while being pelted with stones and forest debris and left dented and bruised.

Growing ever more inquisitive, the young adolescent sapling wondered to herself, “Why were these things happening?”

She asked her mom, “Mom, will you protect me?”

“My dear,” her mother replied, “I am here to guide you. I cannot give you all the wisdom you need to grow big and strong. However, I can help you with advice and guidance. But, as you must know, I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I will present challenges and obstacles to you. There will be times where you need to find your way.” As she turned away, she whispered to her sapling, “Embrace the challenges as opportunities for growth.”

Undeterred, the little sapling continued to grow and thrive. Some days she bent toward the light; other days she fended off local creatures. She felt empowered as she got bigger and stronger. But the ravages of Mother Nature also burdened her with weakness, pain, and uncertainty, leaving her vulnerable for a period. The adolescent sapling would recover, and her bark would become thicker and her roots would go deeper into the ground.

She continued to experience the plight of predators, drought, stiff winds, and the heat of the sun and fire, along with quiet days. She continued to grow. She wanted the protection of her mother, and she also knew she needed to stand on her own. Sometimes her mother would step back. Other times, her mother would unleash harsh rains and wicked winds that would wipe the soil away. The young sequoia was being tested. All the saplings were being tested.

Finally, after years of turmoil combined with growth and nurturing, the sapling transformed into a towering Sequoia, standing tall and proud in the forest. It had weathered storms, droughts, and predators, emerging as a symbol of resilience and endurance. This Sequoia, at 100 feet tall, is fully dressed in a rich, thick reddish-brown bark that could now repel insects and fire. The roots were deeper and the branches broad, yet she was only one-third of the way toward becoming a grand Sequoia.

As she continued to grow into what would be a grand Sequoia, she continued to weather the storms, fires, and all the events that challenged her wellbeing and life. She knew, despite the nicks on her bark and some wilted branches, she could fend off most challenges. She learned how to thrive, and she learned how to adapt. The young sapling understood that vulnerability was not a weakness but a stepping stone towards strength. She learned to be unafraid because her mother convinced her, “You will have all the tools you need to survive.”

Now, as a 300-foot grand and majestic Sequoia, she looks weathered, but she is beautiful and strong. The grand Sequoia looks across the forest and sees many tall trees, some like her and many that are different. She now recognizes that the forest floor is now littered with recent growth. In good times, she will not be needed. In bad times, she could shield them from some of Mother Nature’s wrath. But she cannot protect or save them all.

This grand Sequoia, once a green sapling reaching in earnest toward the warmth of the sun, is now the overseer and protector of the forest floor. What happens below and around her is out of her control—this she has learned. Her branches can serve as a canopy under which others can grow, but she will yield to the laws of Mother Nature because there is no other choice. She is mature but not invincible, so she continues on her growth journey. Even if she leaves others behind.

The grand Sequoia has moved through her natural stages in life. She has dropped pinecones from her branches, which eventually will emerge as little saplings. This would be her family and her contribution to the forest. She will still seek guidance from her mother, but she knows she has learned her lessons well. There will be periods of pain and fear, but there will also be periods of joy, discovery, and love. Yet even as a mighty tree, the grand Sequoia remains humble and aware of its vulnerability to Mother Nature’s unpredictable whims.

The simplicity of the story underlies the fact that every student is or will be a seed, sapling, and eventual Sequoia (or similar sibling), each experiencing something inherently unique in its journey. The stages are sequential and biologically and developmentally essential—you cannot fast-forward to the end.

When I begin my work with students, I see them as saplings that are still evolving. While many appear alike, wearing sweatpants and hats, or taking similar courses and being involved in similar activities, I know they are different, even if they do not agree. My role is to find out what their journey has been, who has guided them, and what their fears and emotions are. And, I acknowledge, not every student will be a grand Sequoia; however, they will be part of a family of sibling saplings, each seeking something different. I also want my students to know how important they are to their own growth. For example, it is much easier to yield to the winds of change than to lean in and be the change. It is also acceptable to stand firm against the forces and observe what is happening around you. All three options are viable choices – made by the students themselves, even if they are influenced by others. The experiences and choices will test the student, forcing them to manage the successes and failures along the way. But with guidance and support, students will be OK.

The role of Mother Nature in the story practically parallels so many important influencers in the lives of students. Parents, teachers, friends, and even circumstances. Mother Nature can be cruel and unforgiving. She can also be delicate, patient, and beautiful. Her influence must be acknowledged, or at least accepted, because there are things we cannot change.

As I reflect on my life, I would never want to go back to being a seed or a sapling – those times were hard but so meaningful. I cannot change the past. I also know how many influencers along the way helped me grow into a middle-aged version of a Sequoia with thick bark and strong roots, meant to stand up against all that Mother Nature will continue to send my way. In return, I hope to share my lessons with others so they too can weather a storm and know there is a warm embrace waiting for them.

About The Author

Kim Chorosiewski, Ed.D., CSCS, CMAA