My art teacher from grade school back in the little town of Paradise Indiana, Mrs. Rita Bradshaw, once told me that, “Drawing trees was a lot like drawing people.” Looking back, Mrs. Bradshaw was one of the biggest influences early on in my then young life. I don’t know if she realized in those few words the profoundness of her statement, the one that still reaches out to me after all these years. At the time she was merely trying to impress upon me that if I could accurately draw a tree, with its twisted trunk and myriad of limbs, then I could eventually draw people. In that small way, she was inspiring me to continue on, knowing that with one accomplishment, I would one day be capable of another. Then there was the other side of the thought: how people and trees were so intertwined.
As time has passed by, I’ve learned more of what she unintentionally said. Trees, like people, can be very individual. You could have an entire forest planted in perfect rows from the same type of seed, but upon careful observation, each tree would be as individual and different from the next, albeit very small, but there would be differences. Thus, it is the same with people.
Then there is the first impression. Trees from a distance can seem impenetrable with their dark green canopies reaching to the sky. The closer you get, the more it becomes obvious they are simply a visual facade, composed of thousands of leafy pixels providing this false imagery. Underneath this blanket of photosynthesis, there is another world alive and vibrant. People, too, from a distance can seem standoffish, brash or unapproachable but the more you get to know them or become friends with them, you more often than not find that initial imagery was simply just a façade meant to protect the real person. Deep inside, they are much more complex, calculating and even caring. But the similarities go beyond the imagery. On the surface is the visual but beneath the exterior lie the branches of life. The stories of living flow from leaf to branch, to trunk and eventually all the way down to the roots. Within these living vessels flow the sap, the lifeblood of the tree, with its rising and falling. When the sap is rising, we feel the spirit of youthfulness rejuvenate our spirits; the spring of life. When the sap falls, we feel our own mortality wane and in essence begin to prepare for the winter of our discontent.
Yet, again we learn, in small pieces like the leaves on the tree, one twig, branch and limb at a time. The collective thoughts of our memories prepare us for a future we often yearn for but never see coming until it has flown past in a rush of life events, like the breeze blowing the treetops. Then, in the autumn of life, our memories begin to collect and fall back to earth where we can hopefully gather them close. For in these days, when we often find ourselves alone, the only things we have left are those cherished thoughts and recollections of days gone by. We wrap them around our souls, pulling them tightly as we sip on the dark elixir of herbal refreshment, embracing its soothing healing mint.
Deep are our roots. How far we follow them is up to us, and how far we use their life-giving energy to propel our ambitions forward is also up to us. To recognize this gift is only to allow what we have known all along to come into being, into the now, the buds of spring. With each step of life we take, we take another step toward the end; yet it must be so. For one step enables us to take the next; making us capable of doing more than we thought possible. These are the branches of our lives.
“10 “These were the visions of my head while on my bed:
I was looking, and behold,
A tree in the midst of the earth,
And its height was great.
11 The tree grew and became strong;
Its height reached to the heavens,
And it could be seen to the ends of all the earth.
12 Its leaves were lovely,
Its fruit abundant,
And in it was food for all.
The beasts of the field found shade under it,
The birds of the heavens dwelt in its branches,
And all flesh was fed from it.”
– Daniel 4:10-12