It Started with a Song
Over 45 years ago, I wrote a song about trees. Trees have always moved me for some reason. One summer between years at college I worked for a landscaping company in Spokane, Washington. I was fascinated by the tall, stately pine trees that covered that area of eastern Washington. So I wrote a song that likened the growth of trees to our growth as persons. A couple of the verses went like this:
For a young sapling takes many years to grow
Before it becomes a majestic tree
Life flows through it from root to top
Growing large, growing strong
Growing oh so peacefully
You and I were meant to grow like the tree
Rooted deep in the love of God
Branching out to new life all the time
Growing slow, growing calm
Growing for all eternity.
Ever since that summer, I have loved walking among the trees, whether in a forest, a city park or a tree-lined street. They remind me of something deep within me growing silently, so silent I don’t even know what is happening.
The Life of Trees and Flowers
My fascination with trees has been rekindled recently by reading The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Both of these books, one fiction, one nonfiction, have awakened me to the ways in which trees have moved through time and history, and how they will outlive human beings, even though we seem to be doing everything we can destroy them and inhibit their growth. They are smarter and wiser than we are, and will have the last word.
In the last few weeks, I have been planting flowers: Marigolds, Brown-Eyed Susans, Begonias, and a tall yellow one whose name I have forgotten. Later, we will plant Zinnias along our back deck and in late summer they will grow 5 feet tall. Now don’t get me wrong, I am no gardener. Weeds and other pests often defeat me and attack my flowers. I am fully and completely at the mercy of good luck, the sun and the rain to make these plants grow. Even so, I persist.
Gaining Perspective from the Trees and Flowers
In this time of the COVID-19 there is so much uncertainty and so much foolishness. We have a president who changes his mind between a public commitment and his next tweet. Protestors act as if their individual freedom is without bounds and responsibility to others. Some foolish people ignore the basic advice the medical experts give us to wear a mask and keep our distance. Not to mention the virus itself, the lives it keeps taking and the timeline for recovery only it knows.
In the midst of these threats, the trees and flowers help me get perspective.
In a recent podcast of The Growing Edge, Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer talked about “gardening in the dark.” Gardening is a metaphor for doing our important work regardless of uncertainty, regardless of whether or not we know what is coming next. Our important work is how we support the people around us, how we help to alleviate the suffering of those in the wider world, and how we deepen our trust in the Divine, however, He or She manifest themselves. I plant flowers and look at trees in part because I find peace and inner joy in the beauty of these expressions of the natural world. But I also plant and look at the trees because they are something tangible in this time of uncertainty and not knowing. And they remind me to keep focus and reach out and support those around me.
Preparing for the Days Ahead
The flowers and the trees speak to me in another way about the longevity and cycles of life. Come October and November my flowers will have wilted and died, and the leaves will fall off the trees leaving branches bare. There are times of barrenness ahead, of struggle, and even suffering. But just as the flowers and trees bud after the time of winter fallow, there is reason to hope for the emergence of a new normal and we will adjust.
And through it all, as I wrote in that song decades ago, the trees will grow and so will we. If we continue to foster love and patience, if we continue to support our neighbors, friends, and even adversaries, we will come through into a new place. I suspect we will be living in different ways six months or a year from now, but we will get through.
Moreover, my hope is that we will learn from what we have seen during this time, and begin filling in the gaps and leveling out the inequities. And may we learn to be kind, first to ourselves, and then to others, because the days ahead will be difficult; we will stumble, we will fail, we may lose loved ones, we may suffer, but we will come through.
The trees show me that we can endure. The flowers remind me of the beauty of this moment. Living in that tension of the now but not yet is where we are, and where we must be.