“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

...And What About the Trees?


While at the Grand Canyon last week I found myself drawn to the trees that line the rim.
These trees are growing at an altitude of 7000 feet, at the edge of a stone precipice that drops to the base, 7000 feet below, where the Colorado River flows. I wonder how it is that these trees manage to grow and live? Where do they get their nourishment? What kind of soil is tucked beneath the stone surface? Some of them, obviously do not survive...but even dead and dry they retain a profound beauty...

It appears they manage to grow in what is essentially stone and through harsh elements - wind, sun, snow, rain - with little protection, little to sustain and nourish. Not just one tree, but many trees. I wonder how long they have lived this way? Hundreds of years? Thousands? And, do new trees pop up now and then? And if so, how? How would a seed find its way into some crevice, grow roots, and send up a shoot that would become a tree? It seems incredible to me, as I walk on that stone rim.


Perhaps I am drawn to these trees because of their tenacity. Actually, I'm drawn to trees anyway, and have a small collection of photographs and paintings of trees in my home office. As a child I loved to climb trees. As a small child of 8 or 9 I used to climb the apricot tree in my backyard and read books while eating the fresh apricots. This tree was in my backyard, which was built on the side of a mountain in Salt Lake City, and from this tree perch I could watch the valley below.

A few years later my family and I had moved to Wisconsin. In our yard we had huge trees, Elm, I think. I don't know. But huge. My dad built us a tree house in one...and oh the fun I had. Again, I loved to climb up that tree and sit in the tree house and read, or dream....maybe we, my brothers and I, even spent the night out there? I'm not sure.

Many years later my husband and I, owners of our first house, parents of two small children, planted a tree in our front yard. We no longer live there, but I am sure that tree, now 16 years old, offers some wonderful shade. The next house we bought captivated us because it had an ancient, huge Elm tree in the large backyard. We only lived in that house a short while, selling it when I went off to seminary. Sadly the new owners cut the tree down, afraid that it would fall on the house. To this day that fact makes me angry.

Now, in our current home, if we decide to stay and buy this place, we will plant a few trees in the front yard. I'm thinking three Chilean Mesquite trees which form a beautiful canopy with their branches, grow quickly, and will provide shade to the front of the house, as well making our rather barren desert front yard look more inviting, cool, pretty.

I could go on about the trees in the yard of our other homes, but I think you get the idea that trees are important to me. They symbolize history, and longevity, and perhaps wisdom. Trees have great flexibility bending nearly in half in fierce winds, and yet rarely breaking in half. In the Midwest I lived through many ice storms and micro bursts that tore off branches and broke portions of trees, but usually the main trunk and branches survived. What strength and perseverance, what beauty.

But of all the trees that have captivated me, the trees on the rim of the Grand Canyon are the most provocative. How is that they manage to live? What gives them the tenacity to survive? How might their strength and beauty become a metaphor for life?