I have always loved trees. They mark time with their silhouetted bare branches, budding fragrant blossoms, cool shady leaves, and firework finishes. For Christmas, I got Evan Sibley’s Book of Trees, and we’ve been marking off slowly the ones we’ve seen on hikes and mountain vacations. I have always been drawn to stories about trees. A few good ones that come to mind are The Giving Tree and Swiss Family Robinson.
Even the Bible can be summed up as stories of three great trees: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil at the beginning, Christ’s death on a tree in the middle, and the promise of the Tree of Life that holds fruits for the healing of the nations at the end.
There are a lot of ways to tell our little stories, to mark our time and seasons within the great story. So here’s a little of my story framed by the trees I grew up around, as well as the churches I grew up in and books I grew up reading.
I was born in San Diego. Palm, Avocado, and Eucalyptus trees. A Covenant Church. My parents had moved there for graduate school. My dad’s a painter. He read me Pat the Bunny. When I go back now it smells like home.
When I was two we moved into the mountains. Pine Valley named for Jeffrey, Coulter, and Ponderosa Pines. A Methodist Church. First we lived in a cozy trailer, then my parents built their dream house. My brother was born, we’re both baptized, and have Go Dog Go read to us everyday. I traced the path of ants along the red smooth Manzanitas and sang to myself in the stony front yard.
At five and half, we moved to southern Wisconsin. Maples, Ornamental Plums, and a few Elms. First a Presbyterian church then a Mega Non-Denominational one. My mom transferred to the home office of her father’s company. Dad was a graphic designer. He could work anywhere. Mom read Laura Ingalls Wilder with me. I wondered if I would live in as many houses as Laura does. My brother and I took our animals on sea voyages in the guest room, and I wore a path around the roots of an enormous maple whispering stories to myself.
Four days before I turned twelve we moved to New Jersey. Ash and Rhododendron. A Baptist Church. Grandpa sold the company. Now, Mom commuted to Wall Street every day. Dad started to read us Swiftly Tilting Planet four different times, but we were getting too old for family reading time. I rode my bike in circles around the dogwood and along the pine grove in the back yard. I was the star of my own elaborate tales.
Fourteen. A week before high school started, we moved to Northern Wisconsin. Apple, Cherry, Black Locus, and Weeping Willow. First a Pentecostal church then an Eastern Orthodox one. Mom got her Masters in Counseling. I read at least a hundred Christian romance novels. I wanted to be a writer, but I was afraid I would not be good enough. I finally got a swing underneath a White pine to do my adolescent pondering, but mostly I wandered on pine needle carpeted forest floors and dreamt of good boyfriends.
Eighteen. I left for college in Illinois. Accolade Elm, Burr Oak, Marmo Freeman’s Maple. A Missionary Alliance Church and an Anglican one. My parents missed me. I made a new family with roommates and coffee drinking friends. I read ancient texts and dense textbooks. I kissed a boy under spring blossoms, and he asked me to marry him in the fall under those towering maples and oaks.
Twenty-two. We moved to Maryland. Tulip Poplars, Sycamores, and Magnolias. A little Anglican Church. I missed my parents. I learned to be an adult who cooked her own breakfast and organized her bookshelves by color. I read a lot of mostly boring books for grad school, then left and read children’s books to feed my soul. Now I kiss away toddlers’ tears and have started writing a book about fairies and tree houses.
I am twenty-eight and half today. Christmas babies celebrate their half birthdays, sometimes. But everyone’s still on vacation and can’t always come to your parties even in late June. I wonder under what trees I will read Pat the Bunny to my own children. I am not sure if I will have more homes than Laura Ingalls Wilder. It depends how you count it I suppose.
But, I know if I take time to notice the shifting shadows under a tree, whether it’s a cypress or a tamarack pine, I’ll find beauty.
I know that if I walk the same path for a year or two everyday, I’ll notice the rhythm marked out in falling leaves and new seedlings.
I don’t know where our path will lead us, but I know that I’ll find comfort in the shadow of the Most High.
How do you mark the different seasons of your life? What are the most beautiful trees you’ve seen?
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