I was watching the trees in our backyard the other afternoon. When we moved into this house 13 years ago, the trees were very different. They were younger. Less mature. While smaller and not nearly as majestic as they are now, they were nothing that I was concerned about it. They posed no threat to my home. No immediate danger.
But now? Thirteen years later, I see two enormous trees that have died and finally collapsed across the wooded area. I carefully watch a particularly tall tree - clearly dead - on the edge of my yard. I wait for that tree to be unable to hold itself up any longer. I think about that tree with each passing thunderstorm of the season. I wonder if that tree will fall upon my home.
Those trees are like our ever evolving family.
Our family tree has been steadily growing over the past 17 years. It has been a beautiful young tree. Large enough to be considered a lovely adornment but nothing massive enough to shade from the blazing sun.
But like all things in the freshness of springtime - there is new life. I have found that our family tree has very distinct separate branches - traveling in their own directions. Reaching to find the sunshine on their own. Providing a home for their own tender green leaves that are beginning to pop up along the smooth wood.
To the trunk they are still attached. Should a great storm come the trunk shall anchor those branches as best it can but sometimes the wind is powerful and is capable of snapping those branches. All the trunk can do is wait and watch. Do it's job of upholding those branches with its mighty strength that comes from somewhere else.
Beneath the tree trunk there is the hidden. Yet the most important part of the tree. The roots. Our roots are deep in the ground. Attached to the trunk. Firmly holding our tree in place. When the breeze kicks up the tree can begin to sway. All we can do is wait to see if the roots are deep enough to support the tree.
The roots continue to spread and draw all of the nutrients into itself that it can. All that its surroundings provide. The tree relies on its environment to maintain its life. Sometimes the ground is saturated. But that can be a false sense of security. Because when the ground is saturated a heavy gust of wind can easily uproot the entire tree - especially if the roots are shallow. Other times the ground is dry. Once again, you can see the effects of the dehydration - those tender leaves growing on the new branches will begin to wilt and shrivel.
When I look into our backyard, I wonder...
"What caused some of those trees to grow stronger, taller and more solid than the others?"
"Why did those three lose their ability to survive?"
After all, those trees are each in the same environment. Same soil. Same sun. Same weather. Same storms. Same nutrients. Yet some stand tall and magnificent. Others spindly and near death.
With the emergence of springtime in my backyard and summer eminent, my mind is on those branches of my own family tree.
The largest of my branches will turn 17 this summer. He has obtained the tender leaves of his license. He sways in the breeze, lifting himself towards the sunshine beaming from the top of the woods. Searching for his own opening in the darkness. Choosing his path, knowing that this time next spring - he shall be preparing for his graduation.
The 15 year old branch seems to be shooting off in a different direction. Believing himself to be stronger than the trunk itself and not needing the roots attached to the bottom. This branch believes he can exist without the rest of the tree. Any ordinary gardner could try to tell him that the branch cannot thrive without the tree as a whole. But the branch does not believe. I hold my breath that the heat of summer doesn't bring a violent thunderstorm to take that branch off of my tree. But it is not in my control.
The third branch is growing rapidly. Perhaps it is in this branch that I see the most growth and change this particular spring. He will be 13 in a short few weeks. He has always remained closely attached to the trunk, taking solace in its strength. Yet a couple of times I have caught a glimpse of the leaves beginning to rustle in the breeze. He is growing further outward and away from the center of the tree. But as of now this branch still feels the strongest. In fact, I will continue to watch this branch because I believe the peace that this particular branch exudes will call the most beautiful of birds to perch.
My fourth and final branch will be 11 years old in 7 short days. Her bark is much thicker than that of the trunk. I am surprised by the large amount of greenery that clings to that branch at such an early age as well. While it might be the smallest branch on my tree, I am not deceived by it's size. It appears that this lovely branch is much more mature and capable than one would believe. She gives the impression of being delicate and young but inside she is firm and her strength probably capable of supporting a tree swing.
While I miss the days when our tree was young and new. Freshly planted, something watered with the hose early morning and late evening during the brutal heat of summer. The tree that I watched daily for any new signs of life. Waiting for the first buds. Watching it grow a foot over the first years. Protecting it from heavy snow and ice. Knowing that in the beginning it was so much more fragile and required my constant attention. It is nice now to see our tree able to stand on its own up, growing as it should, knowing that we have survived wicked winters and harsh summers.
One day I hope to look out my window and find that our family tree is large enough to provide shade for those playing beneath. To be home to nests of birds. To be a playground for the squirrels leaping from branch to branch. Knowing that we are the grand tree in the forest no longer the one struggling to get its fair share of sunshine. I hope that our roots reach far and wide yet increasingly deep. That those four smaller branches have produced shoots off of themselves that are now supporting their own tender green leaves that shimmer in the sun.
But for now - I will stand as tall as I can. Be as strong as I can. Hold up those branches -even those days they are so incredibly heavy. I will continue to reach deep into the ground and draw all that I can out of it to sustain our growth.
ATTENTION teenage branches sprouting from my tree!! This is your warning:
As every great arborist knows, I am ready to prune anything that may harm the growth of my tree. I will do all things necessary to reduce the risk of falling branches. I will prune in preparation of increasing the yield or quality of flowers, fruits and harvest from my tree. I'll use hand pruners, loppers or a chainsaw. Whatever it takes...
"Before most people start boasting about their family tree, they usually do a good pruning job." - O.A. Battista