Teachings from trees

Outside the door of our Fairview home stands a magnificent beech tree. Each day we pass beneath it; for as many years as my family has lived here, we’ve watched this venerable Treasured Tree grow up over the house and offer shelter to all creatures — including us. When you live with so grand a tree, its cycles become as familiar as the habits of a friend. Today when I look out and see the tawny, brown buds with tips as pointed as fresh-sharpened pencils, I know that within weeks, green shoots will emerge from these bundles of living mystery.

A recent conversation with friends about the coming of spring helped me grasp that this tree had great lessons to share with me. In the weeks before the greening of the grass and trees and the general explosion of the season, many gardeners — myself included — experience a roller coaster of potent emotions. It is at once a reluctance to leave familiar winter and a keen anticipation of spring. It is the joy of a favorite season, overshadowed by the dread of an onslaught of new demands and desires. And finally, it is the hunger and ambition for grand garden projects, tempered by the frustration of having so little time.

For most of my adult life, I’ve experienced this mix of excitement and anxiety in the weeks before bud break, but until now, I didn’t know how to describe it. It’s a tension or a pressure that slowly builds within me. It’s as if I’m gearing up for what’s to come: my body preparing for the physical activity the garden will require of me, my mind for the overwhelming work of setting priorities, completing old projects and starting new ones. Finally, I accept in my heart that I will never achieve all I set out to.

This, indeed, is what we love about gardening. Year after year, we set ourselves up for the joy and passion and madness of spring; then, when summer rolls around, we wonder where we’ve been the past two months, asking, “Where did spring go?” But now I wonder: Couldn’t this be a gentler time? Might I enter into this season of glory with more grace and ease, like the beautiful beech beside our door?

Each bud swells, lengthens and changes color, filling with life, gathering water and nutrients, turning off and on the signals guiding prenatal leaves to form and prepare for expansion and growth. It’s a miraculous process, unseen until the day the outer protective bud scales drop off, allowing the soft, fine, tender leaves to flourish. I wonder whether I, too, might learn to let go and grow, surrendering to the season and the work at hand. Maybe then, like the beech and other entities in nature, I might effortlessly surf this transition time and, with little stress or worry, help transform this little piece of world into one of fresh life and new starts.

What if we allowed ourselves to feel the pressure build with excitement and a sense of wonder over miracles to come? What if we stepped back from our labors, enthralled, and took the greening of the mountainsides as a timely reminder that each day is not a burden but a gift? In a spirit of partnership, our hearts can find fulfillment in the richness and beauty of emerging growth. I am grateful to the beech for what it’s already taught me, and as the gardening year continues, I’ll be listening, eager for further lessons.

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