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That great old shag bark hickory tree

Earlier this week, high winds brought some remnants of winter that have lingered far longer than I imagine any of us would like. This morning, as I looked out at the snow, despairingly still on the ground, I softened at seeing the great old shag bark hickory tree standing reassuringly in our yard.

When Marc and I decided to join our lives and families together, we made plans to build a new home down the street from where we now live. Eager to get married, we squeezed our blended family into a small rental home while we finalized our plans with an architect and started to secure construction bids. This rental - a disaster of a place that Marc will never live down - was barely tolerable short-term and deemed wholly unsuitable as a long-term solution when we found out it would be upwards of a year before our new home would be finished. So we uprooted the family again and moved to another rental property with dramatically-improved living conditions but a more-complicated arrangement. (Marc owned the house along with his ex-wife.) Meanwhile, thanks to association rules about requiring specific building materials and a drain field price tag that came in five times our budgeted amount, the bottom line on the home we planned to build skyrocketed. A revised architectural plan on a smaller, ranch-style home came back with even higher bids.

This is how we ended up in the home we're now in, with the great old shag bark hickory tree out back: I was visiting the empty lot we had purchased down the street on a short sale, wondering if we should move forward with construction even though it would be way over our budget, when I noticed a tiny hand-written for-sale sign in the front yard of this house, a regal 2-story colonial not unlike the one we originally intended to build. We managed to secure a showing, decided to abandon our building plans, and bought this house the very same day, and we moved in a month later.

Our first summer in this house, after a late afternoon shower, a full double rainbow appeared over that great shag bark hickory tree as if to say, "Welcome home," and that old hickory and I have been great friends ever since.

When our house was being buffeted by those howling, ominous gusts this past Monday, I heeded the call to go check in with the great tree that was swaying precariously in the wind. I worried about the number of branches that had already fallen as I climbed into the treehouse Marc and I built for the kids last summer, and I stood up there, feeling the cold air sting my cheeks and draw tears from my eyes. And damn it, those cold-induced tears finally gave me permission to have myself a really good cry. Oh, how I sobbed and howled right along with the wind! I cried at the injustice of tornados decimating people's homes and lives in the midst of this pandemic as the wind whipped at my face. I raged at the fear and uncertainty of economic and social unmooring as the treehouse shifted under my feet like an unsteady lakeside dock. And I grieved looking out at my freshly tilled garden, reminded of the photos of mass graves being dug in New York City, remembering the deaths of loved ones and the families and friends left behind. How can it be that this earth that receives our dead is also home to our vegetables and flowers and trees?

That great old shag bark hickory, waving its branches overhead, ministered to me through it all.

Tears spent and numb with cold, I eventually climbed down and planted my feet back on solid ground. It was then that I remembered that the root structure under this great old tree was likely as massive as its branches overhead. And I truly felt what it feels like to be grounded - not just because I was literally standing on the ground or even because I allowed myself to be buffeted by the wind, but because I realized that this great old shag bark hickory tree is supported by a vast and well-developed root structure that is strengthened by the wind. And I realized that I also have a vast and well-developed structure of support, if I would just allow my roots to hold me up!

These are the roots of my family of origin and the foundation of faith given to me by father. They are the roots of my husband and children and friends and colleagues - the relationships I share with each of them branch far and wide. My artistic, intellectual, and spiritual roots have been nourished by countless mentors over the years and are evidence of immense ongoing support, even when I find myself distressed and discouraged by the winds of change blowing through my branches. As much as I would prefer to stand alone in times of trouble, I am finally beginning to acknowledge that my personal growth and well-being are dependent on grounding myself in relationship with others during the storms in my life - not just when the sun is shining and the winds are calm. And when I allow myself to be held up by that system of support, I realize that I then have the capacity to reach my own branches wide to offer support and shelter to others who are suffering. We keep each other strong this way.

Maybe that old shag bark hickory tree and I have more in common than I realized.

One last thing, for those of you that are starting seedlings for your vegetable garden for the first time: Make sure you prop up a small fan to blow a gentle breeze on the foliage. Even young plants need a bit of wind to establish a strong root structure.

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