When President Larry Arnn welcomed the Class of 2020 to Hillsdale College at Fall Convocation, he said that our College is devoted to those ideas “which claim to be eternal.”
But what on our campus speaks to the eternal nature of freedom and equality under God, or the “inestimable blessings” we receive in the ability to study these ideas? The statues and paintings don’t count: They glorify people, not ideas.
That is why the College should plant a redwood tree on campus.
When the American author John Steinbeck described redwood trees in his book, “Travels With Charley,” he wrote, “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. From them comes silence and awe… The vainest, most slap-happy, and irreverent of men, in the presence of redwoods, goes under a spell of wonder and respect.”
Hillsdale doesn’t need another statue. If the core curriculum is to be believed, we study the foundation of Western Civilization during our time at Hillsdale. A thousand bronze figures could not produce the sense of awe and respect that claim should inspire in students—But even a single redwood planted in the grass behind Central Hall would do what statues cannot.
Giant redwoods are the largest living things on earth, and stand among the oldest. The greatness of California redwoods is self-evident. Frequently rising to more than 300 feet, many of the monsters were already centuries old when Plato wrote The Republic.
A redwood tree looking down on the quad behind Central Hall would help stave off the sense of complacency many students feel when studying the foundation of our civilization, and it would serve to cover up the dreary backside of Central Hall as an added bonus
Only an animal could fail to appreciate one of the giants towering over the College—and a redwood planted in Michigan would, in fact, tower over anything on the Hill.
One species, the dawn redwood, is native to Michigan, but it tops out at 120 feet. The tallest of the redwoods are the giant sequoias of the West Coast, which reach more than 350 feet, and while those are not native to Michigan, they are perfectly capable of growing in the Midwest.
Carried over from California in a coffee can and planted in 1949, the tallest giant sequoia in Michigan resides at the Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary near Manistee, Michigan. It is now 95 feet tall and rising by more than a foot per year. If it grows to even half the height of its California cousins, it will best the 176-foot red maple that currently holds the title of Michigan’s tallest tree.
Redwoods have a life expectancy of more than 700 years, but many in California are more than 3,000 years old. Whether it lives centuries or millennia, any tree planted on Hillsdale’s campus would likely outlast the College itself, and that is fitting.
We claim to revere the permanent things. So let’s plant a tree that comes as close to permanence as any living thing can.
“They are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time,” Steinbeck wrote. “One feels the need to bow to unquestioned sovereigns.”
At nearly every speech Arnn gives, he expresses his desire that the College “become more like itself.” Hillsdale is devoted to ideas that exist apart from the College, but there is no testament on our campus to the fact that the things we study predate us and will outlast us.
There should be.
Mr. Hagstrom is a senior studying politics and journalism.