Tree Wisdom

[fa icon="calendar"] May 8, 2020 12:00:00 AM / by Bob Bernu


Thanksgiving weekend 2019 brought 17 inches of heavy wet snow to northwestern Wisconsin, a special place where our family cabin sits, on the Minerva chain of lakes. As I looked out into the yard this past Sunday morning, I was startled by the sight of our many pine trees – white, blue spruce, and jack pine, all sagging towards earth with heavily burdened branches carrying the weight of nature’s winter storm. Concerned these trees might topple or at least suffer the damage of broken branches, I donned Sorel boots, jacket, hat and gloves and set out intent to remove some of the 17 inches of ice crystals these trees of ours were carrying.

As I stood in front of the first 40-foot-tall white pine, I was reminded of Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations that recently spoke of how God’s presence is everywhere and in every created thing. As I reached out with both hands and gently removed the snow off one branch and watched that branch majestically rise to its familiar height, I was overcome with a sense of the privileged work I was about. And so, for the next two hours I went from branch to branch, tree to tree and swept the branches free. The trees in their humble state taught me several things that morning:

  1. These pines showed a tremendous capacity to carry their burden/suffering and did so by not fighting but surrendering to the weight the storm of life brought into their path. Like many of us, these trees didn’t ask for the burden they received, yet they were doing what AA calls “living life on life’s terms.”
  2. In their vulnerable state, I needed to be gentle and aware that one wrong move on my part could increase the pressure on a branch and snap it. After having been at it for a while, I had to remind myself the 50 th or 60 th branch deserved the same care and reverence as the first.
  3. I needed to be strategic with which branch I addressed first, where on the branch I first removed the snow, and because of their height I needed to leave some branches alone -it just wasn’t my place to get involved – they were beyond my reach, so I was left to hope their inner resiliency would be enough, or that another helper -the wind or the warm sun coming later in the week, would accomplish the work I was not able to do.
  4. Halfway through I had some doubt my actions were necessary or helpful – that if I had let nature run its course or let those other helpers – wind and sun do the work, maybe these trees would have been just fine, or better off. This second guessing, doubting, not trusting my motives or gifts have been life-long companions of mine…
  5. Many of the branches I attended to were inter-connected with other branches, meaning clearing the snow off one branch didn’t free it until I cleared it off the connected branch so the two could rise together. How true this is too for married couples, families suffering with addiction, or those of us living with trauma, sickness, or chronic pain – we all need the love, wisdom, guidance, and support of others to heal.

120 miles to the south, in Wayzata Minnesota, a dear friend of mine taught me another lesson about pine trees this past weekend as well. Earlier this fall with the help of family and friends, David purchased a 22-foot pine, and had it planted in his front yard as a tribute to his beloved 20-year-old son who passed away tragically a little over a year ago. Over Thanksgiving week David strung 18,000 lights on his son’s tree. Can you imagine the grief those branches held for my friend? Or the memories? Or the questions? Or the healing? Maybe only trees can hold grief like that, and maybe snow on their branches is just practice. I imagine in some way those 18,000 lights represent in a small way the thousands of tears shed by a grieving father and family; and maybe too they represent their connection to other grieving families throughout the world – that’s a lot for a tree to hold. I’m not sure of any of this you see, because the branches of my friend’s grief are too high for me to really reach or understand.

As a result of my experience with those pines, my relationship with them has changed forever. I have now witnessed the beauty of their vulnerability, their humility, their acceptance to what is, their openness to receive outside help, and their ability to offer comfort. As the difficulties of my life at times feel over-whelming and I sense I could be broken by my anxiety, or my fear, or my sadness, or my disconnectedness to myself or others, I pray the wisdom of trees will come to mind and ease my burdens.


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Topics: families, family recovery, Recovery, Recovery Program, Support Group, Gratitude

Bob Bernu

Written by Bob Bernu

FP volunteer

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