Growth Rings

I’ve tended my garden over six decades. As I’ve grown into an old man the saplings have matured into trees, and the trees have become reliable companions.

The Matriarch remains a solitary one-hundred-year-old American Elm. Lone survivor of the plague that felled her companions, and a silent witness to chain saws, chippers, and sawdust swept into the gutter.

The tall old spruce and white pine keep her company, they also provide the occasional hunting perch for Hawks and Eagles at the top of the canopy. Beneath their arms maple, ash and tamarack shelter, their tangle of limbs a labyrinth, used as cover by raccoons and squirrels during angry confrontations with crows.

Blown about by wind storms, battered by hailstones or wilted in the heat of summer, the trees endure with few complaints. When autumn arrives they eagerly shed their clothes and face the icy onslaught of winter naked and proud. The trees understand the true purpose of dormancy, spending this most quiet season closely examining their collection of rings.

I admire their tenacity.

I imagine the trees sentimental creatures, spending the winter lingering over memories of seasons preserved in the rings. The narrow bands formed during the ten-year drought or the wide band that speaks of the year when buds showed in April, and leaves didn’t turn crimson and orange until Christmas. Growth rings tell much more than age, they also speak to all the tree has endured.

I’m becoming a tree.

My once smooth bark is now deeply furrowed. I’ve survived lightning, and had my leaves stripped bare in violent winds, I wear the scars. Through it all my roots pushed deeper into the earth and now grip boulders far below the surface. Winter stretches in front of me, the sap slows in my trunk and stillness replaces my summer obsession for fruit and leaves. I cue off the trees as the snow blows down from the north and draw inside searching my own collection of growth rings for wisdom.

The trees appear at ease with dormancy, as if it were the most natural thing on earth to shut down and grow still five months of the year. Dormancy makes me uneasy, yet this ancient process offers more than innocent reverie.

Examining rings informs the tree when conditions are best for seeds to thrive or may warn of an early frost. Primal wisdom is conveyed through the rings, a wisdom critical to a trees survival.

Unlike trees who gather data from the outside environment my rings detail the emotional climate within. Dormancy demands I set down my daily burdens, shorten my endless list and place an equal value on thoughtful reflection. In quiet moments tracing a finger across my rings I pause over the heartbreak, tragedy and triumph visited over a lifetime and distill wisdom.

Perhaps we must sacrifice branches to the wind and endure drought. Remember rings also grow during the gentle rains of spring and mild summer evenings. Wisdom is best found in seasons when we are quiet enough to hear the rings speak.