Consider the Trees

Had enough of reading about the election?  Consider, instead, the wonder of  trees.

In my upstairs bedroom is an alcove with a window. In the alcove sits a drafting desk  — a place for me to retreat today, in peace, to write.

It is quiet up here.  No hum of the dishwasher signaling its service to me.  No buzz of the dryer calling for my attention.  No background noise of husband on the phone.

And best of all, on this day following the election for president, I hear no prattle of television commentators.

I crack the window and am greeted by a welcome sound: leaves rustling in the branches of a maple tree.  I think of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

 

I need to believe this promise today.  I sit still, writing, but my words go forth.  There is joy. There is leading. There is peace. And not far away, the hills are singing, even today.  And the rustling of the leaves, just outside my window, sounds a bit like clapping. I sit on eye level with the branches, as in a tree house, and in the peace I hear the voice of creation praising its Creator, even today.

I have always thought of trees as companions, as individuals I have known and loved.  From Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, to The Giving Tree, to the tree outside my window, it is easy for me to see a tree as almost human.  A sweet book from my childhood, as illustrated above, explained, “A tree can be a different kind of friend. It doesn’t talk to you, but you know it likes you.”  I like that in a tree.  People friends, with their chatter, can be wearying.  Today especially, I prefer the company of a tree.

One of my earliest tree memories is of a shimmering Cottonwood near my home, its leaves sounding of laughter as they danced wildly together, quivering with joy.

When seeking solitude, I would lie in the woods under Loblolly Pines, on the blankets of pine straw that cover the ground. The scent of the pines was bracing yet soothing, sharp freshness contrasting with thick warm air.  The breeze whispered through the swaying branches, reassuring, peaceful, and nurturing.  It was the scent and sound of home.

Other trees of my youth offered hours of play amongst their magical branches: hiding from the world under the dense Magnolia next door to my cousins’ house, velvety cones with bright red seeds, glossy green leaves, the air redolent with the strangely sweet perfume of massive white flowers; swinging on knotted fronds of the Weeping Willow in our front yard; and wondering at the tiny rice shaped leaves, peapod seeds and nose-tickling pom-pom pink flowers of the Mimosa tree at church.

In college at Auburn I lived in the old quad, the traditional grassy lawn bordered by dormitories and anchored by massive Oaks in each of the four corners.  Walking home one day, as I approached the dorm from a distance, something just didn’t feel right.  As I rounded the corner I saw it — a huge stump flat sawn, and an immense trunk lying prone, shorn of its branches.  I sat on the stump, shaken and tearful.

As my tears subsided I became angry and indignant.  Although this was 1981, well before the tree-hugging days of the militant environmentalist movement, if there was not a good reason for destroying this tree, and if more were at-risk, someone was going to have to deal with me. I determined that if they intended to take another tree from the quad that they would just have to haul off this Republican sorority girl, add-a-bead necklace and all, along with the tree. It turns out there was a good reason, as the strength of the tree had been compromised by age and disease and it threatened a nearby dorm.  Auburn people love their trees, then and now, as the recent attack on our beloved Toomer’s Corner oaks reveals.  My militant activism could wait a few years.

I fell madly in love with the fiery red Maples of New England during our first autumn there. How flashy their colors —  more like massive flowers than trees —  impossibly bright as if they gave off some inner light.  But it was an infatuation, not lasting love.

Those glowing leaves quickly faded and fell, signaling the arrival of the oppressive darkness and cold of the New England winter — winters that weighed so heavily upon me that I could hardly welcome the pageantry of the fall without a sense of impending doom.  The barren trees echoed my feelings, black and still, hunkered down and enduring, silhouetted against the pale northern sky.

After three winters, we moved from New England to Texas.  There, though not love at first sight, the Live Oaks won a lasting place in my heart.  The ancient branches spread — reaching as far outward as upward — and grew down almost to the ground before heading back up and out, a slow motion rollercoaster of boughs. The oaks are constant, sporting leaves year round, briefly purging old and immediately replacing with new each spring, providing continual shelter from the Texas sun that beats down with unrelenting strength many months each year.

Even now, I love looking up into the canopy of a glorious tree.  It is for me a spiritual experience, akin to that of visiting a cathedral, eye and heart drawn heavenward, a sense of great comfort coming from feeling so small in the presence of power and majesty and strength. It takes my breath away.  I am thankful to have lived a life that causes me to see strength as benevolent and power as protective.

Nashville is full of awe-inspiring trees, but the maple in my front yard, my companion today outside the window as I write, is not one of them.  Early on, the tree appears to have been topped, the normal upward course of branches interrupted.   Though stunted in its natural development, it steadily goes about the cyclical business of being a tree, season after season.

The annual fall explosion of yellow and orange is now making its way from tree to ground beneath.  Soon comes the tenacious struggle of a few faded leaves, hanging on stubbornly. As the mother of four sons I cannot help but see the leaves as competing with each other to see who will be the last to fall.  By Thanksgiving the competition will be over and a season of rest, a short southern winter, will follow.

The nakedness of winter reveals the tree’s jumbled and misshapen core, but now, years after the cutting, the stumps of amputated limbs sport thick new boughs emerging from them.  Though awkward of angle, the branches appear to be healthy, doing their best to give the tree a natural form, as least from the outside.  It seems to be fine right now, but will the early damage be lasting?

While I don’t revere this tree, I do feel tenderly towards it, flaws and all.  In some ways, I like it because of its flaws.  It makes me think of all the people I know, dealing with mistreatment and hardship in their pasts, striving to be about the business of life, to grow beyond the pain.

In people, we call it character.  It usually doesn’t develop unless there are challenges.

My tree has character.  My tree has hope.

I like that in a tree.

And I think that it is just the right kind of tree to clap with special vigor as the people of God go forth . . . even today . . . especially today.

I think I hear it now.

Can you?

 A tree hath HOPE: if it be cut, it groweth green again, and the boughs thereof sprout.

Job 14:7

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If you enjoyed this essay you might also like  Going Barefooted.

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “Consider the Trees

  1. OneHotMess

    This is gorgeous. I love all of my trees here in the Maine woods. I am from Montana, so winter for me is the norm. I used to get that sense of impending doom, but it vanished. I am glad for that!

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      I love Montana and Maine! So many remote places with the freshest air I have ever breathed. Glad you were able to make peace with winter. It is beautiful with the snow – but the short winter days were hard for me. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  2. ronfurg

    I loved this post. And, I too love trees. I can’t think of trees without remembering the tragic poisoning of the historic Toomer’s Corner oak trees at Auburn. They were obviously there when you studied there and I bet you were terribly sad when they met their demise at the hands of a cruel prankster. I never saw them in person but I’ll bet they were gaaaaawjus.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      The poisoning of the Tooners oaks was horrible. One photo above is of the main campus gates at Toomer’s Corner, with the poisoned oaks on either side. While they were not huge trees or especially unique, they were the central piece of of the place our Auburn community gathered to celebrate together- the “sacred space” for the Auburn family. The trees are still in place but trimmed and damaged…slowly dying. Just so sad.

      Reply
  3. Hollie

    “When my heart is overwhelmed,” the Psalmist said, “lead me to the Rock that is higher than I”.

    When my heart is overwhelmed, usually by some “death of a vision” experience, the things that comfort me are often natural world occurrences that I can only interpret as evidence of God’s existence, such as little caterpillars predictably building cocoons around themselves and morphing into distinctly different creatures.

    The seasonal cycle of trees has likewise heralded the reality and consistency of a God who is infinitely bigger and higher than my vision had ever been.

    In your hometown and mine, Montgomery, the autumn colors are less dramatic than in other places, but rich and warm nonetheless. One tree here that tries to outdo the others with a brief but glorious radiance is the Gingko tree. The success of the Gingko’s autumn performance depends on many factors, including rainfall, temperature, and whether a storm blows the leaves to the ground just before show time.

    There is a Gingko on the grounds of my church that seems to make the best of these conditions each year, producing golden foliage that is nothing short of resplendent. Yesterday, the day after the election, I was feeling that death-of-a-vision downheartedness for our country as I drove to my church at noon for a meeting. Pulling into the parking lot, I looked over and saw the Gingko warming up for what promises to be another brilliant spectacle. Though its color will not reach its climax for a week or so, the tree is well on its way to gilded glory.

    My heart lifted as I looked at this tree and saw in it God steadfastly doing His work, undaunted by the political happenings of the night before.
    O God, my Rock, and my Redeemer.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks for a great comment. It is interesting how often in the scriptures we do find God’s people taking comfort from creation. It does restore our souls in some very real way. i went out early Wednesday morning as the sun was coming up and the world was awakening as always. It was a comfort.

      I have only recently been very aware of Ginkos. They are such fun trees. Stunning color and those lovely shaped leaves. We have one at church too. I don’t remember them much growing up.

      Reply
  4. Janelle

    On my Saskatchewan prairie, any tree is a treasure, and must be hardy and strong to survive. While I don’t understand all the implications of the past election, I pray God will encourage the hearts of your people, and will bless your country.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      None of us really understand the implications either! I think many of us are simply afraid. It is a time for us all to look to God for encouragement. It can be a great blessing to be reminded of where we are to put our trust. Thank you for your prayers.

      Reply
  5. britt

    Lovely to read as I sit here with a cup of coffee this morning and our Japanese maples showcase their glorious yellows and radiant reds! Bless your day!

    Reply
  6. Lisa

    I enjoyed this post. It brought back sweet memories of childhood. I used to talk to the trees like they were people. I felt a sort of spirit in them (probably the spirit of God who created them) as I climbed their branches and swung from swings they supported. My favorite was the weeping willow. I would gather bunches of its branches in my arms and “dance” with it as my partner. Silly but fun!

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      Thanks Lisa! Willows are special. I don’t ever remember thinking of dancing with ours but I would wrap my arms around as many of the branches as I could, twist them one direction, then hang on and twirl around as it unwinded. Just magical!

      Reply
  7. becwillmylife

    Trees seem to exude wisdom, don’t they? Some are so elegant and others quite massive. What about their roots? I love how they sprawl out underground….possibly even connecting one to another. Great post once again. Your words always make me think.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      You raise a fascinating point! Did you ever see those Richard Scarrey books that show the cross sections of utilities under the city? I wonder if anyone has ever done that for trees. I really have little understanding of the roots underneath and I would love to see a depiction. Thanks for reading and commenting. I am glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  8. Auntie Em

    I too am an “arborphile”! It broke my heart when Hurricane Rita took town 50 or so of ours in our yard– but it made me appreciate them even more! Lovely post.

    Reply
    1. In-House Counsel Post author

      So sad! What a loss. We have a home on a lake in Alabama and a tornado passed within half a mile, leaving a wide band of total destruction of homes and trees along the lake. It will be interesting to watch the pine forest recover Will take much longer than rebuilding houses.

      Reply
  9. Pingback: I’m Thankful For Black Friday « magnifiedwhisper

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