The Forest For The Trees

“Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.” – Hermann Hess

This is the time of year when I slightly resent the trees around me.  I recognize the love/hate relationship I have and let it be.  The trees that surround me offer shade and shelter and song.  For these things I’m most grateful.  But they also offer a level of constant maintenance that wears me down at times.  The trees want to reproduce, and so they cast thousands of seeds and clouds of pollen at the time when I’m most eager to just be at ease for awhile.  And then just when I grow fond of them again we do it all over again in the fall with leaves and acorns and hickory tree nuts.  Nobody said it would be easy.  But I’ve chosen this place by the edge of the woods to live.  The trees were here first and I learn from them while they tolerate me.

Those farmboys Hess writes about were cutting down that hardest and noblest wood to build sturdy ships and homes and barns and furniture.  Walk into an old Colonial-era home built three hundred years ago and look at the wood that makes up the structure of that building.  Look at the floors.  This was old growth lumber, not the young fir and pine forested today.  Today’s lumber is from relative teenagers by comparison.  And we know how teenagers can be: mind of their own, and they appear strong but are a bit fragile inside.  Nothing toughens you like enduring time and hardship, as Hess points out.  And we’re all enduring a bit of that now, aren’t we?  But it’s nothing compared to what our ancestors went through, and its good to look back on history and the hardships that our grandparents and grandparent’s grandparents endured.

Still, we’re being tested nonetheless.  And like the tight rings that mark challenges that tree endured, we’ve slowed down in 2020, turned inward and are weathering the storm as best we can.  The collective memory of this will mark a generation, just as those trees clustered on a mountaintop somewhere collectively endured.  But when you’re in the middle of it its hard to see the forest for the trees, isn’t it?  Those tree rings offer another lesson though, for after enduring hardship for a season or several seasons the trees experience a period of rapid growth and the rings widen again.  This too shall pass, and we’ll once again begin a period of sustained growth and recovery.  Everything has its season.


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