Illuminating the Hidden Forest, Chapter 46: What trees can teach us

Trees embody the essence of life. They are a force, persevering, adapting, moving onward.

To read the previous chapters of ‘Illuminating the Hidden Forest,’ click here.

Lenox — In early spring, I walked along the path behind our cabin to see what changes winter had wrought. Not surprisingly, there were many, but most dramatically, an enormous birch had crashed into the woods, throwing a thicket of gnarly branches across the path, and spewing limbs hither and thither. The next day I returned with loppers to cut and wrestle the limbs from the path, clearing my way into the forest.

Bursting leaves on a doomed branch. Photo: Carolyn Newberger.

Now, six weeks and seemingly a lifetime later, while passing the fallen tree, I found to my astonishment that those limbs, severed violently from the mother tree, itself ripped from the ground, were bursting with opening leaf buds. The branches vibrated with vivid green, unfurling from limbs with no hope of continued life.

Pondering this spectacle of arboreal optimism in the face of doom, I began looking at trees in a new way. I was searching for what trees could tell me about hopefulness and endurance in the face of adversity, something like what we are all facing now.

Everywhere I looked, I found trees overcoming life-threatening obstacles, and not only enduring but thriving. In fact, once I paid attention, overcoming adversity seemed more the rule than the exception.

Here are some of the examples of what I found.

Gutted and budding. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

This grand old tree was so profoundly disemboweled that I assumed it was long dead. Yet when I look into its towering upper branches, I can see an abundance of buds just waiting to unfurl.

Jaunty young hemlock on a stump. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

This sprightly young hemlock sprouts from a rotting stump. Like an actor on a stage, it claims its space and announces its presence.

A tree with a story to tell. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

This tree started life upward, then something thwarted that growth, sending it shooting off at a nearly perfect right angle only to turn another right corner and resume its upward trajectory several years later. What happened to create these turns in its young life? To me it’s a total mystery, yet, somehow, this tree carried sturdily on.

A double act of optimism. Photo: Carolyn Newberger

This amazing tree is growing atop a rock, already an obstacle to overcome. But as though that weren’t enough, it starts life horizontally, following the curve of the rock before reaching skyward to claim the light it needs for its continued survival and well-being.

To me, these trees embody the essence of life. They are a force, persevering, adapting, moving onward, or upward in their case, despite whatever obstacles are thrown in their way. Lessons, indeed!