As a child, the first type of tree I was introduced to was a Pin Oak tree. I remember Dad talking about trees and seeing the Pin Oak trees that he and Grandpa planted. The tree in Grandma and Grandpa’s backyard was the biggest I had ever seen in my life; it held up the almighty tire swing, where fears were experienced and conquered but adventures were had. Trees have always been a great fascination to me. Maybe it was because I could see the pure joy it brought my Dad and Grandpa, and maybe I thought trees just seemed so majestic; either way, I love trees.

Many of my childhood memories involve trees.  I remember raking leaves in the windy street with my Dad on a fall day (yes, we were out in the street with our rakes just having a great time and “raking” the leaves that we couldn’t catch because of the strong winds). I remember watching the trees turn colors in the fall. I remember taking a blanket out under our Pin Oak in the backyard and looking up into the tree as the leaves fell. I remember climbing trees, making tree houses, and just getting excited about trees. When I was big enough to climb up into the tree and play by myself, I’d hang my jumprope with a bucket from a branch for snacks and bring my little basket up that had my notebook and pen. I’d draw pictures, write messages to friends, and that was how I spent countless hours of my childhood. 

As a child, I didn’t have a playhouse or swing set in the backyard. I had my tree. I rarely had skinned knees from other outdoor activities, but had scrapes and cuts from slipping while climbing a tree or falling out of a tree. The nasty forehead scrape happened because I was trying to swing to another branch (if monkeys could do it, why couldn’t I?) and I got knocked in the face with a branch. I rarely looked up at the sky to watch the clouds, but instead would look for squirrels or count the leaves in the tree. One of my favorite books in first grade was “The Giving Tree.” Forget roller coasters—I’ll be terrified on the tire swing with Grandpa or a cousin pushing me any day! The tree could hold me and any of my fears. That was cool. I drew pictures of trees, was fascinated with the idea of a treehouse, loved learning about the different types of trees, and my favorite season was fall because of the ever changing elements of the season.  

In 1997 I remember the crazy snowstorm we had, all the strong winds that came with it, and all the trees that were destroyed. It may sound silly, but at age 10, this was my first heartbreak. Seeing trees cracked, damaged or completely fallen over, for whatever reason, hurt me inside. These beautiful creations were innocently destroyed. We couldn’t glue them back together. Some couldn’t be climbed on or played in anymore. The house we were living in at the time was in a neighborhood with many big trees. The storm brought lots of damage, and many tree branches that blocked streets, driveways, and had crashed into homes. Our pear tree in the front yard had split into three (that may have been the day I finally started to grasp the concept of fractions because Dad said that 33.3% or one-third of the tree was on our house). Our house was the one of the few in the neighborhood with power. I remember neighbors coming over, lots of coffee and hot chocolate being made, and people being happy that we had a warm house to welcome them to. As adventurous as all this may seem for a child, it was the first time I felt depressed. It lasted for days, and I was just so sad for these trees. Hearing a chainsaw today still takes me back to that storm because I remember how horrified I was at the thought of branches being cut.  Writing these words now makes me laugh a bit, because although I wouldn’t remember myself as a dramatic and emotional child (I’m sure my parents would say differently, and now that I’m writing the words I definitely think I was a bit overly-emotional and dramatic at times), I have always been reflective and hang onto memories with a tight grasp. Whether joyful or difficult, they stir something deep within my heart that opens my eyes more to eternity after this life. Maybe to put it this way, think of what brings you great joy—what your’e passionate about, something that if you were asked about, you could gush and everyone around can tell it just moves you. You have memories, good and bad experiences, and life lessons learned. Trees are one of those things for me. They always will be. 

A few nights ago we had big storms. Tree-killer storms, as I would call them. I got caught driving home late from my sister’s house in an attempt to beat the storm. I made it back safely, but it may not have been the wisest to jump into my car and get home at that hour. To make a long story short, it was a terrifying drive. No electricity in parts of the city, bright flashes of lighting, loud booms, and debris flying. I’ve never been in a tornado, but it sure felt like it that night. The worst though, was seeing trees falling and flying. Driving over a branch (sorry, car) at 55 mph (oops) sent me into a panic attack. People have been cleaning up all over the city and surrounding area, still without power, etc. My son saw broken trees for the first time and has been asking many questions about the storm. 

Naturally, everywhere I’ve gone this week, I’m looking at the trees. Today I took my boys over to the park that holds many childhood memories, right across the street from my Grandparents’ house—from the giant Pin Oak tree, the tire swing, and one of the most fun playgrounds and walking paths. We stopped for a picnic in the shade, and my toddler was fascinated by the huge trees and all the branches on the ground. How the boom boom storms broke the branches and someone needed to clean them up. He loved playing on the playground, trying monkey bars and zip lines for the first time, and just running around. Much of the equipment that I played on as a child was still there. It was a special time. 

We walked along the path, which felt a bit like a forest. Every time I’m back, the trees have grown bigger, fuller, and there tends to be a bit more shade. The park benches are a little more tattered, the path may have more bumps and holes, but the park’s beauty seems to deepen and have more meaning each time I’m back. 

We were almost to the point in the path where we could see Grandma and Grandpa’s old house. It was the place where so many of my childhood memories were made. As we got closer, my little boy yelled, “Uh oh, Mama!” I looked ahead and saw the dreaded sight—a tree had split and fallen onto the path, blocking it. For an instant my heart dropped—first at the sight of the tree, and second at my son’s reaction. “It’s ok, sweetie. We just need to take a little bit different path to keep going. Things will be ok!” He then smiled and now, this was an adventure. He walked ahead, and I pushed the stroller with my ten-month old, and we kept walking. We walked up a little hill, and got a couple small sticks caught in the stroller wheels. We stopped to pull them out, and got a little muddy in the process. “We made it, Mama!” He shouted. We were right at he spot on the trail to see Grandma and Grandpa’s house, take a couple pictures, and of course, look at the trees. It was beautiful! We kept walking, and had to take several detours on the path due to branches and trees. Each time, I watched my sons reaction, took note of my own, and we just talked. 

My toddler and I love to tell stories with /to each other, especially when we are out in nature. Of course the conversation level isn’t quite the same, however my kid-at-heart, simple approach to things really helps me connect with little people more than I realize. Some things we talked about on our walk today included the following:

  • Life is like a big path, and you have the choice to be happy or sad along the way. 
  • Some parts of the path will be fun, adventurous, and carefree. We can run as fast as we can, laugh as loud as we want, and just have fun. Other times, it will be hard. We will have to stop for broken branches, holes in the path, or we may fall and skin our knee. It may make us cry. We still have the choice to be happy or sad. It might hurt, and we should acknowledge that it hurts, but then it’s the time to get back up, and keep going. 
  • Seeing broken tree branches and taking detours may not be what we plan or want to happen, but it is ok. They allow us to think outside the box a little, come up with a different plan, and trust that things will still work out how they are supposed to. It also gives us a good story to tell someone else that might need to hear it someday. 
  • Whatever lies on the path is no surprise to God. He made the path, created the trees, and is still a powerful God at the end of the day. 
  • Some of the trees might be broken and completely dead, and that is ok. More often though, they may have lost a branch or part of the entire tree, but they are still beautiful, and still have memories to be made. Focusing on all the dead ones will only make us depressed, when we have the choice to see the ones that are still standing. 
  • Trees are strong because of the strength God gives them. They can withhold rain, snow, wind, children playing on them, and even losing branches throughout their life. 
  • New growth and fresh life can happen once the old, dead parts have gone away. Sometimes storms need to happen so that new life can happen, too. 
  • God’s creation is for us to enjoy and share with others. Trees are so pretty! 

I could go on about trees. I could write in detail of each moment at the park today, but my advice now is to find the nearest tree. Take sixty seconds and look at it with no distractions. Think about it’s creator, it’s beauty, and make a memory today.