I’ve been thinking about trees.
I know you think I’m crazy and that I’ve finally lost it, but before you roll your eyes and delete this email, give me 4 minutes of your day and read on.
For your sanity, I have decided to simplify all of my thoughts on trees down to three types: the deciduous oak trees of my youth, the stately mountainside evergreen pines and the swaying palms of the South.
Now, your mind’s eye may begin to think about these trees. You may begin to picture perfectly proportioned trees, shaped by an artist’s brush or a highly skilled landscape crew that cut away all of the imperfections. But before your imagination gets too carried away, let me introduce you to my trees.
First, the oak trees of Ohio. Deciduous oaks have a way of transforming year after year that brings my heart true joy. The strong barren branches of winter transform with new life as tiny leaf buds emerge in the spring. Those buds lead the tree to its full leafy gloriousness during summer and then finally to the riot of colors in autumn that truly show us the miracle of nature. This tree changes with the seasons, year after year…even if the trunk has split into two…even if the tree has been hit by a lightning strike…even if part of it is damaged, the strong part of the tree follows its predestined course.
Next, I invite you to picture a mountain covered with pines. The stately evergreen pine trees never seem to change. They grow and grow through the different seasons, and in a range of climates and environments. In soils made of mostly of clay, they thrive. In soils made mostly of sand, they are prolific. Even on the side of a mountain, somehow defying both the laws of gravity and nature, they can sprout through a rocky hillside, their roots deep and their boughs stretching for the light they crave, they flourish. They shed their needles so quietly, so indiscreetly that you wouldn’t even know they’ve dropped any except for the forest floor that is covered in their offerings. Different beginnings, different environments, different surroundings, they are constantly regenerating their green needles and stand proud.
Finally, picture the palm tree of the South. Yes, it’s tall and spindly. It can hold its ground during hurricane strength winds, flexing and swaying, losing an occasional frond, but it whips itself back upright. Many admire this about the palm and are thankful for its flexibility. However, the palm has another shape that many don’t see. It is the palm that has been planted in an environment where it cannot thrive. Maybe there are too many other trees around it. Maybe a thoughtless bird dropped its seeds without knowing the consequences. But do you know what that palm does? It twists and it bends. Firmly planted it begins to grow straight, but when it realizes there is not enough sun for it to thrive, it turns toward the light. From vertical to horizontal, the palm reshapes itself. And then, once it has found an opening, it grows vertically again, happy in the sunlight.
So, you may ask, “Why in the world are you thinking about these trees?”
I don’t have a simple answer. My full time job is as a caretaker for my son. I’m his support person, his advocate, and, sometimes, his organs when he’s sick and can’t manage the medications on his own. And then I got sick and everything became shaky. Days turned into weeks turned into months until finally I was diagnosed with my very own chronic illness. My perfectly planned life, once again, got turned upside down for a bit. I spent a lot of time alone. I spent a lot of time being quiet. I spent a lot of time not able to do much of anything. I couldn’t do my favorite things, and due to the medications, I couldn’t think very clearly. But somewhere along the way, I started thinking about trees. Not the perfectly manicured ones in my neighborhood. And certainly not the ones painstakingly hacked for the upkeep of power lines. But the ones along the road, or the ones I saw during our last vacation, or the ones I snapped photos of when I could walk along the river and soak in some nature. And I started to think about how much these not so perfect trees mean to me.
When I see an oak standing tall, but damaged by nature or illness in some way, I think:
It is still standing, still going through the seasons of life. Damaged but doing its best to provide shade to whomever wants to sit below it, offering its sturdy branches to whatever creatures need it, and dropping its colorful showy leaves to give nutrients to the soil and plants that come along, long after it’s gone.
When I see an evergreen sprouting from a rock bed, I think:
No one knows how that tree got its start; the trauma, the hardship. It is gripping onto whatever soil it can, pulling only the good parts from it and pushing toward the light. It has had a hard journey to this point but quietly it moves forward, growing and giving whatever it can to its surroundings. It drops what it doesn’t need and grows anew.
When I see a palm that is growing in an uncanny way, I think:
Look at how that palm has adapted! Twisting, turning, and finding its way among the chaos that surrounds it to a place where it can thrive. It has the unbelievable ability to find a way to grow and persevere given its turmoil. The palm finds a way to the light.
Now that I'm feeling stronger, and getting back to my not-so-normal normal life, I continue to think about my trees: the oaks of my youth, the mountainside evergreen, and the twisting palms. Spending time in nature heals me. When I am feeling particularly down or stressed, I know I need to hear something other than traffic. I need to breathe purer oxygen and I need softer ground under my feet. I need to see trees in their natural habitats, hear bird song, and watch the occasional bug or spider do their creepy, crawly thing. It fills me up and makes me smile. And I need to see the struggles that are happening every day in nature and how through the seasons, even during rocky times, we can all adapt and twist and turn to the light.