20 January 2010

Advice from a Tree

"Keep a green tree in your heart and
perhaps a singing bird will come."
~ Chinese proverb

My friend Mark is an arborist. Do you know what an arborist is? If you think that arborists are people who just cut trees down, you are wrong. Arborists are protectors of forests and landscapes, perpetuators of growth, lovers of shade, and generally those who believe that protecting and encouraging the life of trees is worthwhile. My friend Mark is one such guy.

When I heard him speak today about what an arborist is at my weekly BNI (Business Networking International) meeting, he made me think that our lives are like trees. So I decided to see where that analogy would lead me and did a little research. Here is what I learned about the wisdom of trees and how it applies to me.

{Note: click on the pictures to see some amazing Etsy artists and their beautiful trees.}

Loving Your Trunk

{SEEPhotography's 'Opposites Attract'}

“Each year a tree essentially grows a new "coat of wood" over the older wood. The outside layer of the tree is dead bark which provides protection from the environment.”

There are times when my outer shell is tough and hard and weathered, when I don’t let others see what is growing within me. But sometimes there is a chink in that armor and a little bit of me peeks out. Like today, when the guy at the convenience store where I stop each Wednesday said that I seemed a bit sad. I looked at him and said, “Perhaps that is what I am really like, and you just don’t know it.” No, he said, you are not like that at all. But it got me thinking about what is on the outside that people see. What is the“coat of wood” that is masking the real you on the inside? Is that tough outer shell keeping things in or keeping things out? Is there new growth building from the inside that will work its way out? Interesting thought to ponder…

Rings Around My Heart(wood)

“The annual rings of wood are composed of large pores that carry water up to the leaves. Each annual ring is essentially a vertical cylinder. The outer…rings (referred to as sapwood) are usually alive and light-colored. Wood in the center of a large tree (referred to as heartwood) is composed of dark-colored, dead cells used for storage. Ray cells cut across the annual rings; they distribute food to living cells.”

I know that there is growth happening when my heart feels full, as if it is busting out of me. The growth in a tree is like ripples in a pond, with each year and experience building on the last. I feel that my sapwood is a bit tender right now, and I want to keep that hard bark shielding it. But I also need to find a way to sustain that growth, feeding the need in my soul. I remember when we built our last house. We cleared the land by removing the trees (sorry Mark!). The largest one of all was, of course, smack dab in the middle of the lot and there was no way around it. When we cut through it, I spent some time on the stump and attempted to count the rings, to honor the life of that tree. I lost track at 250 with many, many more to go. There was a lot of history there. I could tell where the tree had been wounded and healed itself. Did you know that when a tree is wounded there is a natural defense response that heals it? This self-preservation shows up as little walls to compartmentalize the area affected to prevent the spread of decay organisms. The injury remains but is sealed off; however, the storage capacity and function of that injured part is lost forever. I feel a bit like that now. My heart is walling off some decaying areas in my life and my capacity to feel anything for that seems to be lost. But that also means that there is new growth coming. I can feel it. Do you ever feel as if you are moving on to new growth and walling off the old?

Branching Out


“When branches on the main trunk that have a narrow angle increase in diameter they eventually run out of room to grow. The branch bark becomes surrounded by woody trunk and branch tissue. The bark that becomes overgrown is referred to as ‘ included’ bark. The union is weak and likely to split.”

I don’t know about you but I feel that I am constantly splitting off in new directions. Each new branch takes me in a certain direction for awhile…a day, a week, a year, a decade. Sometimes it can be a strong connection to my core, or sometimes it is not as sturdy and can run the risk of splitting. People are like that. We are attached to them, building layers of a relationship for awhile, forming those rings and protecting each other with a cozy outer bark, but then at some point we might find the direction that we are going has become overgrown, the growth stalls, or there are new branches to grow into, rendering this one hard and knotty. This defunct branch may still be a part of the whole, but it is not progressing. Maybe it is time for cutting back in order to let other branches flourish. Is there anything that needs to be pruned in your life? Things that aren’t getting the attention that they deserve? Are you at a juncture where new growth is possible? Or maybe your relationships are branching out, going in new directions, or stunted and ready to fall off?

Roots that Give You Wings


“Tree roots develop and survive where there is adequate oxygen and moisture. Most active tree roots are in the top 3 feet of soil; the majority are in the top 12 inches. The more compacted or poorly drained the soil the closer the roots are to the soil surface. Roots grow most of the year, stopping only when soil temperatures are cold. Woody roots become thicker each year; absorbing roots die but are replaced by new absorbing roots. A few woody support roots grow downward and outward to anchor the tree in place. Most trees do not have a deep tap root. While a tap root may develop on trees growing in the woods in well-drained soils, they generally do not develop on trees transplanted into the landscape or on trees grown in compacted or poorly drained soil.”

Have you ever felt like your roots are shifting? Or maybe they are too close to the surface? Is it easy to ‘nick’ your roots, or do they run deep and tangled and wild? I think that our family and friends are the roots for our tree. Other times it is our jobs or hobbies that feed us. Our roots are the basis for our growth, the anchors, the lifeblood. But there is often more under the surface than meets the eye. Your root is what feeds you and gives you strength, but sometimes things come along, or develop over time where you feel that your root system is choking. Ever had a weed come in and cut off your oxygen supply? I can relate to that toxic environment. My roots should be giving me life, but right now my life landscape is seemingly more compacted and poorly drained and there is no further room for growth where I am at. New shoots are in the process of forming which should move me in new directions. Sometimes this growth hurts, feels uncomfortable, happens too fast or seems too slow. My woody roots seem to be absorbing and seeking new pathways, as if there is a blockage or a dis-ease that they need to work around. Do you have a ‘deep tap root’? One that sustains you and fills you up, yet anchors you to your core? I want to develop a deep tap root, a well within myself that I can go to when I am unsure of the direction or need a reminder of the really important things in life. I don’t think it is ever too late to grow a deep tap root, or to make yours stronger, more resilient, better able to handle all that your growth will throw at you.

Crowning Glory

{KennaFoster 'When Fall Dreams'}

"The branches and leaves together are called the crown. The trunk supports the crown and holds it up to the sunlight. Almost all leaves are green in the spring and summer. Most trees also have reds and yellows in their leaves. But the green conceals these colors. In late summer and early autumn, the chlorophyll in the leaves of many broadleaf trees breaks down. The leaves then die. But before the leaves fall, they reveal their hidden reds and yellows. After the chlorophyll breaks down, the leaves of many trees also develop scarlets and purples."

Sometimes the leaves all blend together. Other times they are blazing and full of color. The shape and the pattern of leaves is like wearing accessories, like showing the world who you want to be. I like the idea that the leaves are called the crown. The roots give support and life to the trunk, and the branches send us in new directions. But the greatest glory of the tree comes from its outward appearance. I appreciate that sometimes my true colors are hidden and it takes time and the right circumstances for them to surface. I like the idea that deep down I am developing scarlets and purples, regal colors full of pain and loss and a deep appreciation of life, that this only happens when I am constantly seeking new branches and reaching up. And then there may come a time when all the crowning glory falls away and I am left with the stark branches that remind me that it is time to rest and regroup and renew myself. I am hoping for that with this spring growing season. New buds signaling a rebirth inviting the birds to perch and sing their song of creativity in my soul.

My friend Mark, the arborist, would be proud of me for listening to him so closely, and for being inspired by his passion for trees. Like his capable staff, I need to tend to the roots as well as to the leaves. I need to know that sometimes my bark is holding things in and keeping them out. I need to accept that when branching out there is a danger of being weak, but there is also the knowledge that trying new things makes me stronger. I need to never stop growing, showing my true colors and reaching for the stars.

Check It Out::Advice From A Tree

Enjoy the day!


Pearl and Pebble said...

What a great post!

Erin Siegel said...

Beautiful analogy, Erin! Well said. There has always been a deep connection between humans and trees! In fact, I once wrote a Haiku poem, comparing our human existence to a tree! Now, I'm no writer or poet so I'm not saying it was good but, It when something like this:

We are the same seed.
Our souls like leaves on a tree.
One love branches out.

Sounds like you are going through some 'growing pains'? We are all in this together, so don't feel you are alone! I'm here if you need to talk! :)

Jenners said...

This was so lovely and thoughtful and I know your friend Mark will be very touched and proud by how inspired you were. Well done!

Beverley Baird said...

A very powerful post!
It's funny - as a gr. 3 teacher I teach a unit on plants and trees and one of the sections is having kids compare themselves to trees. I love your deeper meanings tho - lots to think on.
Thnaks for shaaring this.

EmandaJ said...

Hello Erin,

Wonderful analogy! I hope you will have a healthy growth ring for this new year.


Mellisa said...

Beautiful Erin...yes, I think a deep tap root is critical to growth and the ability to branch out and expose vulnerabilities. I know you have many rings (as in layers, not your age my dear!) and are resilient, so you will make it through this period of limited space to spread your branches.

Lance said...

This is so beautifully written. I feel very much you soul being shared in all of this - in such touching and compassionate ways. For some reason, I keep going back to the trunk. I have to explore that some more within myself, there's something here that pulling me in that direction. Know that your words have landed upon my heart today, filled with the care I know you wrote them with.

Erin, your spirit shines so wonderfully in what feels like an opening into your soul here today. I am so drawn into this whole piece today. And I know that's you, shining your love out...


rosebud101 said...

Wow! Erin, those are great analogies! I've had an aha moment reading your thoughts. I need to nurture my roots and establish a real tap root that is excited and nurtured by creativity.


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