Ever since taking a week long tree identification course in the forests of Southern Ohio two years ago, I’ve been trying to be more like a tree. Getting to know the names of our natives trees was valuable enough, but getting to know their personalities was a whole other thing I didn’t expect. Ever since then I’ve been charmed, haunted, challenged, and awe-struck with the presence of trees all around me.
I didn’t know some species of trees tap into each other’s roots and that larger, more established mother trees literally feed younger saplings.
I didn’t know that networks of fungi under the soil also tap into tree roots and exchange water that they go and get well beyond the reach of the trees roots for nutrients that the tree creates through its leaves.
I didn’t know that the xylem and phloem just inside the trunk serve as both skeleton and circulatory system, channeling throughout the entire tree minerals from below and photosynthesized sugars from above. Channeling goodness. After the xylem’s job is done for the season, it becomes sturdy wood to support the new xylem ready for the task.
I didn’t know that the purples and oranges and yellows of fall color are always there in the leaves, but that they only become visible when the greenness of the chlorophyll fades as cold weather approaches.
I want to be like the honeylocust and juniper, pioneers who reclaim worn out land, who grow fast and replenish the soil and then fade away, John the Baptist-like, when the larger and slower growing maples and beeches get established and shade them out.
I want to be like hickory, walnut, cherry, and mulberry trees who produce far more fruit than necessary for their own survival, generous.
I want to be like the Gingko tree who survived the fall of the dinosaurs, a witness, persistent.
The week’s lectionary reading from Isaiah makes reference to trees: “For like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be.” It’s a good hope.
In Columbus, Ohio where I live we are still in the glory of fall colors, although more and more trees are dropping their leaves. Rather than gathering energy from the sun they are in the process of pulling their energy down into the earth, sending their roots even deeper in and further out, waiting, resting, preparing for a new season of growth above the ground.
It’s a good time of year, a good week, to consider what it might mean for our days to be like the days of a tree.
This could involve discussing the changing of the seasons with your children; looking at a tree out your window and pondering how the life of your family is like that tree; collecting leaves to use as a dinner table centerpiece; saying a table grace that goes something like this:
Like a tree may we be rooted in love, content in our place, generous with our gifts, patient for the light.
–Joel Miller is pastor of Columbus Mennonite church. He blogs about trees–and other things–at Phlogem and Xylem.