The Sway of Carolina Pines

Trees: wise, sturdy, stoic. I have always loved trees—individually and for the forest they form collectively. These slender pines seem to be on a race to reach the sun, or at least the Carolina blue sky, with their piney tufts topping each barked pole and shading the ground below. But on a recent hike through the Audubon Newhall Preserve on Hilton Head Island, I appreciated the flexibility of these trees and what they taught me about science and faith.

Hikes for me are a time to destress, take in nature, engage in quiet conversation (this time with my Mother-in-Law, who was a trooper in my request for a hike on our recent vacation). For me, these mini-escapes are a time to ponder, reflect, breathe.

There was much to consider in this compact preserve of fifty acres set aside for the enjoyment of visitors and residents amid the vacation frolic just outside its borders. A blue heron with a wingspan as wide as my car. A clandestine alligator in the pond named Big Al. Flora and fauna, thick and bright. The colors—the emerald green of the palmettos and the camouflage brown of the tree bark. And a nodule on the side of a tree that looked like a cranky old man with a cigar. (You have to squint and use your imagination to see it!)

But what caught my eye on this hike was how the pine trees swayed in the wind. Honestly, they danced. They rustled and waved across that blue sky. I worried how these pines would fare in a storm as I tried to convert the size of their massive height into a horizontal wound on the ground should they topple. Any coastal town on the eastern seaboard knows the threat of hurricane winds. Without an extensive root system, these pines are particularly vulnerable. And yet, their swaying might be their secret to survival.

A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind. Thus, by nature’s own decree, the soft and gentle are triumphant.” Laozi (Chinese Philosopher)

Apparently, these gentle giants can simply sway their way through a storm. Good advice.

In an article in the Wall Street Journal about swaying trees, the author writes “…trees behave like upside-down pendulums: The base is fixed, and the top rocks from side to side. Trees will mostly sway at a fixed rate, just like the pendulum in a clock.” The sway rate is also an important metric for determining the health of a tree. The amount of sway can depend upon their water supply. The drier the tree, the less sway. The day before we walked the preserve there had been a good, soil- drenching rain, so these trees were in good form for their swaying performance during our hike.

“The time it takes for the top of a tree to bend to one side, swing away and then come back again can vary from half a second to 20 seconds.”Wall Street Journal  

This science in explaining how the trees sway is as important as my resulting inspiration. The breeze has always represented something mystical, refreshing, and uncontrollable to me.  In fact, the breeze is a metaphor for faith. You can’t see it, taste it, smell it, or touch it. And yet it exists. You can see its power as it moves through the trees and bends them across the sky. The science of the environment meets the spiritual hiker—and they coexist.

So, I’ve decided, I don’t need to slow down to relax and destress—I just need to drink more water and increase my sway rate! And believe.

It doesn’t cost much to be happy if the currency of your heart is the blowing of the breeze and the swaying of the trees.” Unknown


  1. Denise this was a great read! I didn’t actually know that about trees! How neat. I am inspired and am going to lace up for a hike right now! Thanks girl!

  2. Beautifully written. Have always thought the pines were a sign of home. To see them dance both captivating and humbling, reminding us of our vulnerability while filling us with awe. Truly enjoyed this read!

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