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Roots and Shoots: coming together and moving apart


I spent last weekend looking (mainly up) at trees. They are beautiful to behold at this time of year, with their sometimes spindly, sometimes snakelike roots dancing delicately and ferociously with the earth, embedding themselves in the unlikeliest of places due to patience and perseverance. It is not with force alone that they take their wide embrace around and into the earth.

As a tree grows, it births new roots, leaves, and also new branches. The desire to expand up and out is as necessary to the life of a tree as its time nurturing its foundation. And in order to grow? Things must be lost. Things must separate.

The life cycle of a tree is something most of us take for granted. At first glance, the clunky, compartmentalized form of four seasons seem to rule over most trees’ existence, not unlike the labels we place on our own lifespan. Spring sees new green dollops emerging from damp bark like mossy candles; summer bears witness to the mature leaf as it ripens into greens that armies and hunters wear, a sign of the imminent descent into fall. Autumn’s magnificence emerges emblazoned with golds, reds and amber tones if the weather and the climate so afford. Winter ushers the muted decaying leaves to the end of their life as they dance with the wind, are pummeled by rain and whatever other forces of nature lead the to their demise, ultimately rejoining the earth as one.

These four seasons give us some understanding of the life of a tree, yet a whole world exists beyond the confines of the calendar year as we know it. When your recall your own life, surely there were important growth points beyond the birth, midlife mark and death? Often it is the small, largely undocumented moments that bear the greatest ground in our memory and hold the key to our limitation or growth – like the tree.

Underneath the broad seasonal strokes, the breath of a tree happens moment by moment, where constant microscopic and tiny changes create possibilities where only impossibility exists. The tree holds nothing and no one hostage, she is interested solely in interaction and expansion. A healthy tree is curious about evolution, about growth. Over time, branches separate from the main trunk as soon as they are strong enough to forge their own path, sometimes taking over the primary trunk as the strongest route to the sun, sometimes dying off due to a weak link in grain; sometimes becoming stunted due to the need to send the tree’s life force elsewhere. Occasionally branches dive down into the earth and emerge as a new tree, leaving a vast interconnected network of seemingly disparate trees that are intertwined through a long history; one tree that has grown into separate pathways, forging new and unique shoots to freedom.

Walking through a forest, the trees talk to me. They remind me of the cycle of life and death, they remind me of the necessity to grow firm roots as foundation and to reach for the light. They remind me to let go and find my own path of growth. From the wind rippling through the high spindles of leafy twigs atop the canopy, to the reverberations through the base of the trunk and down through the roots into the earth, the tree is alive, speaking, breathing, being; knowing when to stay connected and when to move apart. There is nothing so majestic, so regal, so graceful and strong as a tree.

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