Hiking through Sangcrhis State Park, lost somewhere in the potbelly of Illinois. Larch. Elm. Maple. No oaks, but signs of this favorite tree of mine from a few decayed leaves. In the middle of my hike down Cottonwood Trail, a burgeoning trunk thicker than any else around. Big daddy oak. But as I walked away from this granddaddy, I perceived a sickly look in it, its main limbs stripped of bark and flesh, fed on by lightning, perhaps. Its leaves were shriveling and riddled with holes, its branches crowded out by nearby jealous larches.
I looked high above the canopy and noticed this oak’s healthy crown of leaves glitter in the sunset high above the others. This tree seemed to share in all the courses, all the stages and conditions of life; it shared a sickly understory with jealous, competing trees. Its trunk sunk into hard, waterless earth. And its lower story reflected these conditions of arboreal poverty.
Yet its canopy reached singularly toward the sun, more robust than all the other trees. So do our hearts, shared with all other hearts, reach from competition with crowds, from neediness and sickness, to undiminished light. And it seemed to me as I walked away from its majesty that the higher it stood toward heaven, the deeper its roots must reach to help it stand, to nourish its flourishing crown. The taller we grow, the more grounded we need to be.
© 2015 by Michael C. Just