By Joyce Alexander, RNP (Retired)
I live in the woods, and what passes for a “yard” (I can’t possibly call it a “lawn” with so little grass!) is pretty much in deep shade most of the summer due to the tall trees. Because of the deeply wooded environment, I’ve had to make a choice to have either trees or grass, but not both. I chose the trees.
Many of the trees are different varieties of oak, some of which tend to shed the lower limbs as they grow taller and the lower limbs receive less sunlight. This self pruning of the trees benefits them by taking the limited resources of nutrients from the ground and moisture from the rains, and using it to grow taller and wider at the top where it receives the most sunlight, rather than maintaining those lower limbs that are not as productive because they don’t get as much light.
In keeping other trees in the yard that don’t “self prune” healthy, I do this pruning for them with a saw. I trim the lower limbs off so that the resources of the tree will go into making it grow taller and straighter. I also trim off any limbs that are broken in storms, so that the amputation will be smooth and not collect rain water or rot and kill the tree.
There is a lesson to be learned, I think, in the analogies of pruning the dead wood of our relationships, so that the healthy parts of our lives can grow taller and straighter. The unhealthy relationships, both major ones and minor ones, use more resources than they contribute to the overall health of our lives, and will deplete the resources available to us to live good lives. They suck the resources we have and give little or nothing in return. The resources we do have are wasted in trying to maintain these sick “limbs.”
Sometimes unhealthy relationships will fall out of our lives of their own accord, just like the self pruning Jack oak trees drop limbs, without any effort on our parts to remove them. Some unhealthy relationships just seem to depart, and drop out of our lives.
Other unhealthy or broken relationships sort of hang on in our lives, like a hanging limb that we call a “widow maker,” because even though it is dead and detached from the tree, it hangs there precariously in the top of the tree ready to fall on someone walking underneath it without any warning. These unhealthy and essentially dead relationships become dangers to our lives, as well as to the lives of those around us.
There are many things that can damage a limb, or even an entire tree, making it necessary to remove all or part of the tree. Lightning strikes have actually taken out five trees over the past few years. The entire trees, though they struggled to remain alive, finally succumbed to the injury and the insects and mold which took root and finished them off. We had to remove them. Sometimes losing these trees seems like I’ve lost an old friend, and their shading of my home in the summer time is greatly missed when they are gone. In their places I have planted new trees, which I have fertilized and watered and pruned to help them grow tall and straight. The relationships that are “lightening struck,” through no fault of their own, are still not healthy ones and no matter what I try to do to heal them, there is little chance that they can recover. Their departure though, leaves a space in the sun for new growth to flourish.
Not every tree, and not every relationship, makes it for the duration of our lives. Some shed parts of themselves, and some die of an injury or of their own accord, or change in some way so that it is not possible to continue to have them in our lives. Sometimes trees reach their natural age span and they, like old friends, depart this mortal plane. Sometimes a tree, just by the position in which it grows, will lean too close to the house. It becomes a danger that during a storm it might fall on the house and crush it, so it must be taken out before that potential danger becomes a reality.
Relationships in our lives, just like the living trees in my yard, are constantly changing. The only thing in this world that is a true constant is change. In order to keep our mutual space healthy, the trees and I must work together. During the dry years, I water them, and they shade my home from the beating heat of the summer. During the cold blustery winters, some of the cedars shield my house from the winds that seem to be directly from the North Pole. They also provide berries for the cardinals that winter in my yard, giving a splash of bright red to an otherwise dreary day. Since cedars require a very acid soil, I don’t try to make grass grow under their roots by spreading lime, because if I did, the cedars would sicken and die. I trim them gently in the fall so that their branches will not be overcome with a wet snow or ice and broken off during the winter leaving them injured and sick.
I moved into the clearing here in September of 1994. During that time here, there have been both major and minor changes to both the trees in my “hole in the woods,” and in the relationships in my life as well. I’ve pruned the trees, removed some entirely, some have died, and I’ve planted new ones, and all of them that are here now have grown. I’ve also pruned some of the relationships, removed some entirely, some have died, and I’ve formed new ones, and the ones that are still here have grown and matured and become stronger.
I have fed and watered, nurtured and defended the ones that were healthy and not poisoned them by trying to make their environment into something that they can’t survive. I haven’t tried to make this “hole in the woods” into something it isn’t. I don’t try to make it like a suburban sodded lawn, with manicured grass and topiary trees. If I wanted that, I would move to town.
I accept my relationships and myself for what we are, enjoying healthy relationships with the people who make my life a better thing and trimming out the dead wood and the “widow makers” from both the trees and the dead wood of unhealthy relationships. This makes for a much safer, healthier and more peaceful life in my little “hole in the woods,” where the fauna and flora and people can have a peaceful environment in which to thrive.