Monday, October 27, 2014

Tree Testimony on Windy Days

The sun's out today in north central Texas, and so is the wind.

Wind is one of those amazing things that we can't see... but at the same time, we can.

Technically, of course, we don't see the actual air or its currents, but we can see what wind does to water, and to tall grass, and to trees.

But we can't see the wind.  Well, hardly ever.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a freakishly strong storm of wind and rain blow through north Texas just before rush hour.  I had been in the backyard, and noticing the breeze turning up a few notches, saw a particularly ominous black sky gathering over our neighborhood.  Turning to go back inside, I found myself watching what looked like a large, oval-shaped bubble of grey and brown debris suddenly shoot over and down the roof of our house, across to where some plastic patio furniture had been set up.  I witnessed that oval-shaped debris cloud pick up two plastic Adirondack chairs, and fling them into a brick planter and another potted plant.

So while I didn't actually see the wind, I sure thought I had!

That storm would go on to decimate a neighbor's 80-foot-tall tree, sending limbs crashing onto two cars parked in a next-door driveway.  Another entire tree would be blown over into the front of a neighboring house, covering it from corner to corner with a mass of branches and leaves, and damaging its roof.

Meanwhile, I was inside with my parents.  My father, who is in the grips of senile dementia, couldn't really process the storm outside.  None of us had really ever seen wind like that - everything was blowing horizontally.  What was even more amazing, however, was the way most of the trees around us - we have 11 full-grown trees in our front yard - were literally dancing.

Well, actually, they were jerking, or twerking.  Seinfeld fans might have even called it the "Elaine dance."  Enormous limbs were heaving up and down, bending backwards and splaying apart with such viciousness that I thought we'd have piles of shredded trees all over the lawn before it was over.

Behind our house snakes a quiet creek, with tall trees lining its banks, and those trees looked like they could have been touching the creek's rapidly-rising water, they were swooping and bending so low.  Yet those trees would pop back up and take the next hit, with wind pummeling them for about twenty minutes straight.

These magnificent trees define our neighborhood, and help give it the beauty it's got.  Without our old, tall, full trees, I suspect our neighborhood, which is otherwise full of dated homes, would be far less appealing a place to live.  As I stood with my father in our living room, watching the trees whip around in the fierce wind, I figured we were about to find out how bad our neighborhood was going to look without them.

Thankfully, we only suffered minor damage to small limbs on our property.  About 95% of our neighborhood emerged relatively unscathed, for which all of us are extremely grateful.  But I keep thinking about all of the physical forces against which these old trees had to contend during that storm, and I grow ever more amazed not only at how gracious God was to us, but at how He designed and constructed these trees to begin with.

We normally don't put a lot of thought into how trees stand up, and we mostly assume that they're strong and hardy until they die.  Only then, if you've ever tried to cut one up, you know what an effort it can be, and how impressive their existance was.  Otherwise, it's easy to forget that each tree stands as an amazing testament to the ability of different types of wood within itself to stabilize itself, provide for its nutritional needs, protect itself, and strengthen itself.

Think of all the irony in trees.  Roots need to admit moisture, for example, but bark needs to repel it.  Trees absorb carbon dioxide, and emit oxygen.  They also grow faster the older they get. 

On moderately windy days like today, when our trees are merely swaying, and some limbs are ever-so-gently bobbing around, I try to imagine what's going on behind that bark, as the tree's biological systems are having to accommodate all of the fluctuations and gyrations the wind is forcing upon its entire structure.  After all, the roots need to absorb the rest of the tree's motion to stay grounded.  The trunk and each branch have to bend, yet remain solid.  When the wind is gone (if it wasn't catastrophic, of course), are you ever struck by the fact that the trees haven't changed shape?  Everything in each tree somehow gives and takes, opens and closes, expands and contracts, without the tree's structure becoming permanently re-bent.

And when they do fall, all of that nimbleness and flexibility suddenly becomes dead weight as the tree crashes into anything beneath it.

Most everybody who's bought into our neighborhood values these trees, and is loathe to cut any of them down.  Sure, in bad storms, they can fall on houses and cars, and inflict considerable damage, but when you consider how mighty these trees are, and majestic, few homeowners regret ever having had them to begin with.

Many metaphors to the human condition, of course, have been made about the remarkable strength and resiliency of trees.  And for good reason - I'd sure love my life to bounce back during and after a storm, without showing any signs of wear.  I'd love for all of my internal systems to be so accommodating and reflexive so that I don't need to fear the wind, or the rain, or the changing seasons.

Storms like the one we had a couple of weeks ago can damage even hardy trees forever.  Sometimes, the wind can be so severe, trees that are otherwise healthy simply can't withstand it.  Or, like the tree that fell against a neighbor's house two weeks ago, it's easy for us to see why they succombed to the wind, while other bigger, older trees didn't.  That particular tree snapped off at its stump, exposing a rotten, black core at the base of what was a robust-looking tree.  Nobody knew the rot was there, because the rest of the tree looked so good.

Now, there's a wide, circular hole in the remaining canopy of trees that towers over the house.

Dear Lord, please help me not to be rotting inside!  Help me to sway in the breeze like an elegant yet majestic tree.  Help me to remain faithful no matter the weather, and bounce back after encountering the headwinds of conflict and oppression.

And please, Lord; help my sap not to drip!

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