In mid-September, in the midst of a global pandemic, political strife and racial reckoning, nine of us donned our masks and backpacks and took off to the mountains of Pennsylvania, hoping, at the very least, for a distraction, if not for some much-needed perspective. On Saturday morning, our co-leader invited us to wander around the woods until something from nature called us into conversation. It didn’t take long for this sweet birch to find me.
I spent the next half hour or so studying it and, yes, engaging in a little chitchat. What is your story? How did you get started? Where did you find the soil to plant your seed and develop your roots? What made you twist and turn? How did you thrive under such difficult conditions? How on earth (pun intended) are you still standing?
As I studied her more closely, underneath the twisted roots and stones, I noticed an old stump of some sort, out of which I guessed she had her beginnings. This old tree died, and in her death gave life to the birch. What was her story? Was she felled for timber or for farming? Or did she die due to the terrible chestnut blight that wiped out millions of trees from Maine to Florida in the early 20th century?
The sweet birch is quite literally standing on the back of the old tree which most likely started its life in the same way, relying on another for its foundation. Her story is layered on the stories of countless others before her. Each tree and plant in the forest is living and thriving because countless other plants and animals and rocks, in their degraded states, provided the material they needed to live. And when the sweet birch’s time comes, it too will provide the soil and structure for future plants and trees.
And so it goes.
After this conversation with the sweet birch, I felt better somehow. I was heartened – no, that’s not right – I was inspired by her tenacity. One might even call it courage -- to keep living, adapting, twisting, turning, to find the soil and nurture and light she needed. I knew, too, that her efforts to thrive under extreme circumstances would eventually nurture countless others through her life and through her death.
At a time when it seems that the very foundations of our democracy are trembling, much of what we rely on feels tenuous. This sweet birch encourages and inspires me to hang on, to be willing to twist and turn and adapt and dig deep to find the nurture that I need – we need. She also reminds me that we can find sustenance in the towering figures we’ve recently lost. We can sink our roots into them, live into their legacy boldly and courageously, seeking the sun and the light until it is our turn to fall and give that same nourishment to others.
For more inspiration, please join us for our upcoming Resilience Project programs:
Online Book Discussion: Connecting with Nature in a Time of Crisis on October 27 & November 10 and Resilience & Hope: Wisdom in Nature walk on November 14.