Tree Trunks

Tree eucalyptus 3What color is the trunk of a tree? Brown? Gray? Tan? White with black spots? When I was a child, trees in coloring books always were to be colored brown. Any other color would bring laughter and sometimes condescension or even ridicule.

What an awakening to discover that birch trees, with their white and black bark, were real and not figments of a history book’s imagination! Aspens, I learned, have pale gold bark and grow in families with interconnected roots. An aspen grove is one large family, holding hands underground.

How like humankind that is, I thought.

A coast live oak tree appears to have a grayish brown trunk, standing on its hillside in solitude. Closer, the color becomes variegated. Closer still, there are shades of gray, black, cream, and even reddish brown where new growth peeks through cracks in older bark. No monolithic color is this, but an intricate blending of a spectrum of colors.

How like humankind that is, I thought.

Roots anchor the tree to the earth and give a solid foundation for growth—what we call grounding. Healthy trees have as much root mass as their growth above the soil. That is something for people to consider, as well. We often spend a lot of time in our heads, to the detriment of our connection with the earth and our emotional foundation. A good question to ask yourself from time to time: Where are my feet? Do I feel my connection to the ground? If not, take a moment, pause, breathe, and focus on your feet. Feel them standing solidly on the earth.

The trunk is the connector, the conduit of the tree’s life force. Roots to branches, nutrients flow through the trunk to provide energy for growth. It also gives the tree strength, as the spine and core muscles do for people. Some trees are sturdy, some are flexible, depending on the kind of tree.Tree eucalyptus 2

Nutrients reach the branches and leaves, which exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen and thus make it possible for other life forms to breathe. Branches and leaves are like the mind and intellect—how we reach out. With enough nutrients, the tree bears fruit. For people, those fruits are ideas, thoughts, actions, children. How well the tree can sustain itself and continue to bear fruit relies largely on how well it is supported and nourished by its root system and the earth.

When autumn leads into winter and resting time comes, leaves fall to the earth and become mulch, which then becomes fertilizer to nourish the tree. The tree is thus a system that works as a circle, receiving, giving, and receiving, sustaining itself and bringing benefit to other life forms—much like the life cycles of people.

It is no wonder that trees have a central role in so many faith traditions. For example, the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life are central elements in the Bible’s Garden of Eden. The Yggdrasil or tree of life in Nordic traditions connects the nine worlds. The Tree of Life is a central metaphor and symbol in Kabbalah, the sacred wisdom tradition underlying Judaism and Christianity. The Celtic Tree of Life (crann bethadh) is a symbol for harmony and balance—something we all strive for.

Returning to the choice of crayons to use in coloring my tree, I realize that decisions made, protocols and restrictions imposed, when I was 5, 10 or even 15 years old need no longer be the guiding principles for my life. I am free to choose the colors for my tree (and to bear the consequences of my choices).

May I make choices that nurture and sustain the growth of my own tree of life.

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"Animals are such agreeable friends - they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms." - George Eliot
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Gandhi
"There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together." - attributed to Gandhi
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