Wild TreesThe Wild Trees by Richard Preston has many different levels of information and adventure. It's the story of searching for the largest redwood trees in the world, trees that contain half the living species in the world, and are the oldest and largest living things. Along the way, one is enlivened with a good discussion of the biology of redwoods, a summary of the techniques and equipment used for climbing, many survival tales including a 100 foot free fall descent that is almost invariably lethal, romance in the trees and below, lessons in parenting, a course in the interconnectedness of all things, and many hilarious, heartwarming and spine-tingling incidents.

Some of my favorite parts of the book might give the flavor. In discussing the world of the redwoods, Preston describes the last remaining environments that Sequoia redwoods, a form that has lived unchanged for 80 million years, thrive in. " The redwood has settled down in California to live near the sea, the way many retired people do ".

The main antihero of the book, Steve Sillett, who goes from near suicide, dementia, to heroic conqueror and famous professor, asks a student , a fellow tree climber to marry him, up 300 feet in the air, as she slits an avocado for him. " Marie, do you think you could keep doing this for a while," "Sure, I know I could keep doing it " "Will you marry me?"

The scholars team up with arborists to go for a night climb up the trees and arborist Hillery falls 100 feet to the ground backwards and upside down. He doesn't scream as he goes down as he needs all his energy and concentration to have a chance of survival, perhaps 1 in 10000, as his speed reaches 90 miles an hour. He puts up his left arm and reaches across his chest as he falls. "There was a deep wet boom, mixed with a whooshing sound. His body compressed the soil, and a sparkling radiance of light rose out of his body, and spread in all directions. He had literally cratered. His eyes were shut and he wasn't breathing . Then suddenly his lungs inflated with a hoarse sound. He twitched and made moaning sounds. He apologized. 'I'm really sorry you guys had to see that ". He had been saved by the duff around the trees, needles, twigs, roots, fungus, et al. "What had saved his life was that he had managed to spin his body around get his head up as he fell. Punching the ground with his open hand helped to protect his neck. If he had wasted his time screaming…. ".

By far the most appealing characters in the story are Marie Antoine and her father. The three sentences the father asks Steve Sillett, "Will you take care of her ?", What is your work about ?". "Do you make a good living?" as he prepares to die, and insists they don't come to see him as he wants them to remember him alive are beautiful, as is everything about the father, and the daughter, who has no compunction about getting married a few hundred fee up in the air, or having sex there with the aid of Galtonesque contrivances.

I'm probably the only person in the world who also found it very instructive that all the technical techniques of the scholars were completely fruitless until they consulted the business people, the arborists, who have to climb trees for a living, and showed them how to walk inside the tree rather than ascending it vertically in fixed positions.

I found many market lessons in the book. First, the search for the biggest trees provides insights into everything else, as to reach the top, the trees have to use every asset they possess, and conquer all liabilities. Also, the funding for their efforts depended on finding a worlds' record. No one was interested in the second biggest, or most beautiful tree. The description of the politics of the National Geographic Society, and the National Science Foundation is also most amusing and instructive. The trees themselves are amazing in that on the tops of trees, a whole forest grows, including Douglas firs, blackberry bushes, hundreds of thousands of insects, and amphibians. The main form that the trees follow at the top is reiteration. The tree, making smaller and smaller copies of itself at the top until it ascends to almost 400 feet in the air, with many bonsai trees and plants of all description in the top.

The discussion of the tree's mission in life to grow toward the sun is very apropros of most market rises. "It had been striving to become what is was, driven by an unconscious self directed code by their response to sunlight, wind, water, accidents, fire, insects, and disease." Just the same way a market like stocks in the last two months, or grains in the previous six months conquers, or oil at present, conquers all obstacles to go where it had to go because of the differential between borrowing costs, and the rate of return from stocks, the e/p + growth. The tree "crowded upward into the air, seeking to drive its from into space and move toward the light, to cast its shadow over lesser trees, and take their light from them, and to throw its seeds into the world. "What are the seeds that big market moves or individual stock moves plant, and what shadows do they cast over others ? It's a good question to ask, when you strive to fine tune the entry and exit points to take account of the minor variations, and get suckered out of your good positions.

It turns out that to understand a giant redwood, you need a microscope. The lichens that grow on the trees provide it with the nutrients that it needs to survive. Similarly to understand the big moves in the market, say the quarterly ones, you need to understand the microstructure described in such books as Harris.

I would guess that like many others, I decided after reading this book to go to a tree climbing school with my family for education in life and markets, and I would recommend reading this book to all who wish to appreciate the majesty and beauty of life and markets.

Jeff Watson adds:

Trees are beautiful objects in nature. The leaves, phloem, and cambium are the living part of the tree, with the rest being support. The strength of the central heartwood of a large tree must be incredible to enable the tree to grow to such heights. The market has similar strong supports, such as the upward drift, a free market, and confidence of a better tomorrow. Some trees produce fruit in cycles, much like the markets. In Florida, I love the sight and smell of my citrus trees, with the fruit bearing a nice dividend Even when an old tree decays from within, it's able to remain standing for decades, still producing seeds to create the trees of tomorrow. The cycle repeats endlessly.





Speak your mind

6 Comments so far

  1. George Parkanyi on May 17, 2008 3:50 pm

    You want something to grow that big in the market? The answer is compounding. Sure you can get big trees from time to time - gold and silver in the 80’s, Internet and tech stocks in the 90’s; but these are trees that fall over. You want a tree with large deep roots, methodically built on the resources around it pulled in and held season after season.

    And you need time. The biggest redwoods took hundreds of years to get where they are - our big caps and multinationals took decades - either diversified by business lines and/or markets.

    Compounding by definition means you’ve kept what you’ve gained and built on it. Look there for your redwoods. ;)


  2. Bob Johnson on May 19, 2008 9:24 am

    An uninvited destroyer from a far-away land has made a home in the woodland where our home sits. Our forested property has 400 or so mature specimens. Last year we noticed signs of the Emerald Ash Borer exhibited on nine of our mature ash trees. Infestation by this 1/2″ long immigrant from Asia is a definite, drawn-out death sentence. The life cycle of The Green Menace starts when an adult female beetle flies up to 1/2 mile searching for a new host. After laying eggs the hatched larva bore to the inner-bark to eat and fatten-up for 1-3 years. The S-shaped feeding tunnels they form disrupt the flow of nutrients through the phloem, eventually killing the tree. In late summer larva exit through 1.5 mm D-shaped holes, molt, mate, and feed; then fly-away to start the cycle again. Currently there no proven treatments and the death toll will certainly climb above the current 10+ millions.

    However, all is not lost, nature has provided diversity, the oaks, maples, hickories, and walnut trees will reach out and fill the voids in the canopy; stunted saplings will spurt skyward, now being flooded with sunlight.

    Much the same, a diversity of assets will protect an investor from being laid-waste, survivors of an attack spreading and growing to new heights.

  3. Dan Costin on May 20, 2008 10:54 am

    George, I think these trees are more analogous to anti-compounding. The bigger they get, the slower they grow. Like a fund that gets too big to have returns above peer averages. They can only come down, and always will.

  4. M. D. Vaden on June 9, 2008 1:29 am

    If you plan to attend a climbing school, I just heard via email, that the Northwest climbing school near Grants Pass is relocating near Portland, next to our area. We just moved from the valley located south of Grant Pass. The climbing school is associated with New Tribe, the gear of which is mentioned in the book; like the Tree Boats.

    No photos in the book of the Titans !! Remedy for that …

    Images of Titans from Atlas Grove and Grove of Titans. My page for those giant redwoods groves is like a central hub. The page is loaded with links to albums and various photos of all kinds. Both mine and images from others.

    Feel free to share the page. It's only been online for a few months. It will enable people to visualize what they can't see in the book, and may never see in-person.


    M. D. Vaden of Oregon

  5. Katherine Modena on November 14, 2011 10:32 pm

    Your site doesn’t render properly on my i phone - you might want to try and fix that

  6. Ficus Bonsai Trees on November 14, 2011 11:00 pm

    Thanks, I have been searching for info about this subject matter for ages and yours is the best I’ve located so far.


Resources & Links