A few months back, I sat with a friend eating breakfast under the rounded canopy of a massive oak tree. Spanish moss hung eerily from wooden arms stretched open as wide as a mothers, welcoming us into the comfort of her shade.
It was fall in Florida, and while we ate, acorns periodically fell like tiny arial bombs; landed on the table undetonated grenades. They hit the ground around us, bouncing before they rested. And I was more surprised than stung when an acorn detached from a high branch and hit me right on the head.
The sky, apparently, WAS falling after all.
Poor unvalidated chicken little.
Later, after we finished eating, I circled the tree like a predator, trying to find an angle where I could capture it perfect; intact. I wanted to preserve it in one iPhone frame. But no matter how I stooped, stretched or contorted myself, I could not hold the tree unbroken. Each photo revealed a fractured part of the whole.
The tree was, in a word, magnificent, something I wanted to always remember. So before I left, I knelt in the grass and picked up an orphaned acorn, studied it objectively, like a scientist or a man. I took in the cupule, the tight, ornate cap and dull pointed end. Then I pushed the nut deep into the front pocket of my jeans. It was tiny, hardly noticeable, and yet every time I took a step, I felt the burden of potential pressing against my thigh like a hot stone.
It’s baffling to me that something tiny enough to fit in my closed fist already carries everything it needs to become a massive oak. It too much to take in, an entire galaxy in the pin point prick of a star. And yet all the greatest achievements were at first only a speck, a wish, a dream. A bird growing inside the egg, waiting with tight, folded wings.
I emptied my pockets after I got home, and left the acorn on my nightstand table, but the burden of potential stayed with me.
And then, a few nights back, I was leaving a friends house after an impromptu birthday celebration. My arms overloaded with presents as I gingerly crossed the sheet of ice to my car, my breath hanging like a ghost. Winter felt long and biting cold, and the empty branches of snow scarred trees I kept walking past made me wonder how something so bare could ever bloom again?
But here’s the thing, winter always yields to spring. And storms make us put down deep roots and solidify our foundations.
There was an experiment done in the early 1980s in the desert called the biodome. Sounds fancy right? It was. It was an exercise to create the perfect living environment for human beings, plants, and animal life.
I am curious just what the perfect living conditions entailed, a massage chair? A down pillow, chocolate? A cabana boy to fan you with palm leaves?
No! People there is limited space in the biodome!!
Basically, scientist built a huge glass dome and equipped it with an artificial, controlled environment inside. Purified air and water was pumped in offering optimal growing conditions. People lived in the biodome for many months at a time, and even without a cabana boy it was wonderful, because people opted to go into the biodome without their spouses or children.
Reluctantly, I conceded that I needed to step away in order to view it undiminished. So I slid my iPhone into my back pocket and stopped trying so hard to incarcerate the moment. Then I literally FORCED myself to stand still. *Standing still is especially difficult for those with ADHD* but I made myself pause anyway. Wait under the intricate web of ancestral boughs, listening to the rustling leaves. Overhead, the ligneous skeleton stretched like the underside of an umbrella. The bent gnarled branches curving over me like a pianists fingers; wooden, arthritic, poised.
It was wonderful because everything seemed to do well, with one exception. Any guesses?
People wouldn’t stop throwing rocks at glass houses? No.
No one wants to … cough cough, reproduce in a glass dome? No.
People started to get paranoid that big brother was watching, because he was? No.
The exception was that when the trees planted grew to a certain height, then would simply topple over. The scientist were baffled until they realized the one natural element they forgot to recreate in the biodome was wind.
Edwardo really dropped the ball on the one!!
Trees need wind to blow against them, which in turn causes their root systems to grow deeper into the soil, which in turn supports the tree as it grows taller.
The adversity they face is eventually the source of their greatest stability.
Trees need wind and I need Diet Dr. pepper or I will also just topple over! But you don’t see any scientist running out to rectify that!
Also, can you put your children in a bio dome, but stay outside of the bio dome? I mean if you sign a release or something?
Asking for a friend.
The root systems of oak trees will grown underground to mirror their height and width above ground. The roots pushing down as deep as the tree is high and branching out as wide as the branches are long. In this way, the oak can withstand incredibly strong storms, like tornados and hurricanes. And because the tree knows it’s rooted, it adapts to sway and give during the blinding intensity of a storm, instead of snapping.
The take away? When you are bending in the wind, remember that you have been laying down roots and growing in the dark. That you have strength no one can even see.
I know, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the prospect of ALL THAT YOU HAVE TO BECOME. #nopressure
But don’t stress. My mother once told me that flowers aren’t burdened by human worries, they don’t look at the flower next to them and worry that they won’t ever measure up. Flowers just do what they were created to do. They grow.
And, maybe like me, the part that overwhelms you the most is that you feel like you have to do it all alone. But here’s the trick; you are part of a forest and you already have everything inside of you that you need to be a forest king.
Plus, there are other trees you can tangle your roots with to help you stay upright. #scandalous
You aren’t alone. And it’s ok to rest under the shade of someone else’s umbrella of leaves. I mean maybe don’t hang your hammock there, but pausing is okay.
I once dragged my son Alex to Oak Alley a historic plantation located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Named for its 800 foot long alley or canopied path, created by a double row of southern live oak trees.
I had stood under the canopy of history and absorbed the strength of those that came before me. Walked under an umbrella of shade.
That, and I took five hundred and eighty five thousand photos so I could capture the strength of those who came before me while Alex sighed deeply, pointing out that I was just taking the same picture of the same thing over and over again and when could we leave?
And this is what I think of on days when the burden of potential feels like, well a burden. Days when I feel buried, buried, buried. I think of the times I’ve stood still under the cool shade of heritage and remember my roots. Remember that I already have inside of me everything I need to become a mighty oak.
You just need to be buried to grow.
From little seeds grow mighty trees.