Among the Trees

It’s a new year. Each year we shed the gunk from the last twelve months, brush ourselves off, and prepare our attitudes for another go around the sun.  We attempt to find better attitudes, more willpower, extra tenacity—a well-meaning, Auld Lang Syne tradition, I suppose. This year, it seemed, I had an extra layer of gunk to shed before I could see clearly into January. As I faltered in locating my New Year’s resolve, I went among the trees for inspiration.

Hiking is good for that inspiration, sloughing off the stuff which burdens, breathing in new air to refresh, stretching our limbs far and wide. My boots took me down the hill as the trail wound behind the old Brentsville Courthouse. A recent cold had frozen the ground and a more recent warmth had begun to thaw the ground, once again. As I walked the trail, the mixture of leaf and mud and frozen earth left me feeling as if I were crunching peanut brittle into a layer of chocolatey mud. (Okay, I might have been a bit hungry!)

As I walked and pondered, I gazed above at the winter-blown limbs that swayed stiffly against a blue sky and recalled a Mary Oliver poem. Oliver’s words, always a comfort to my heart, exude her love of trees. I, too, am inspired by the reach and sturdiness and perseverance of the oaks. But her words describe the feeling more poignantly:

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

Except from Mary Oliver’s Poem “When I Am Among the Trees”

But on this hike, I noticed the oddity of stuff that had attached to these trees and the wounds that seemed to dent them. Vines that encircled, squeezing tightly. Graffiti, marking the bark with a kind of permanency. Globs of black lichen-like mold perched onto branches, uninvited. Ivy that reached high as it clung to bark and branch of an unassuming oak. And holes that left gaping nothingness in rounds on one sapling’s backbone. One tree flaunted tufts of leaves that looked like dryer lint at the tops of its branches, stubborn leftovers from the recent, autumnal purge. All of it, cleaving and a tad peculiar. All of it, invasive.

And still they thrive. These trees live among the clinging demands of nature and man and still live, still grow, still nourish themselves within the forest. Maybe shedding is not the answer, after all. Maybe all the muck, the clinging, the nagging, the hurtful, the disappointing moments are supposed to help us learn something of ourselves, our lives, our world, and each other.

I shoved my inner optimist and my I-am-woman-hear-me-roar-self deep into my pocket—for just a moment—and allowed the reality and the truth of this forest to humble my breath. Maybe we are meant to thrive despite all the oddities and stress that find their cling against our backs, our limbs, our armor. Maybe the wind takes what is not meant to linger and leaves us with marks that are intended to teach or enlighten or inspire us to overcome. As we stand tall among so many others who are dented and wounded and carry burdens, we inspire each other.

And maybe we are meant to shine, despite it all. To shine–my New Year’s resolution.


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