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Monday, September 22, 2014

Can you see God in that tree?

"When I see birches bend to left and right - Across the lines of straighter darker trees, I like to think some boy's been swinging them." -- Robert Frost

I have loved trees all of my life. I enjoyed climbing them as a kid, and I studied them when I attended college. I have admired their majestic beauty, eaten their fruits/nuts, harvested their sap, used their wood in building projects and to provide fuel for our fireplace. For me, trees are one of God's most spectacular miracles.

Consider for just a moment how trees manufacture their own food by a process we call photosynthesis. The tree absorbs water and minerals from the soil through its root system and transports it up through the trunk to the branches via its xylem. (In fact, each ring that we observe in the stump of a tree that has been felled represents the xylem from one growing season.) The leaves then take the water and minerals and absorb hydrogen, carbon and oxygen from the air and use the sun's energy to make sugars that are then transported to other parts of the plant via the phloem. This circulatory system is further facilitated and maintained by a controlled evaporation of water from the surface of the leaves. It is an amazing process!

The variety of trees is also stupendous. There are the gymnosperms (conifers) and angiosperms (flowering). They can be evergreens or deciduous (lose their leaves). There are great families of trees like the oaks, hickories and maples. There are tree ferns and palm trees. There is the Ginko tree (Ginko biloba) which is the only representative of what was a much larger family of trees many millions of years ago.

Trees also display a wide range of sizes and shapes. The Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum) only grows up to about thirty feet high and has a small trunk, while the Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) can grow up to three hundred and sixty feet tall and have a trunk that is wide enough to cut a tunnel through that would accommodate the passage of a car!

The Willow tree is the source of what is arguably the most important medicine that man has ever discovered - the aspirin. The roots of the Sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum) make a delicious tea, and the sap of the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) makes an excellent syrup for pancakes. Oaks produce cork and tannin. The Rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) provides the latex to make rubber. Take just a moment to think about the variety of fruits that trees make available for our use (apples, peaches, pears, cherries, oranges, lemons and olives to name a few). Think about the delicious nuts that they provide for us (pecans, walnuts and almonds to name a few). They are also the source of pulp for the paper that we employ to write poetry and produce books.

Think for just a moment about the majestic beauty of a forest of these trees, and the habitat that they provide for all kinds of insect and animal life. Think about the shade that they provide us on a hot summer day, and the protection that they afford against a cold winter wind. And what about the eye candy that we all receive as the green chlorophyll breaks down in the leaves each fall in deciduous forests, and the other pigments which they contain are revealed to us?

Yes, when I look at a tree, I can see God in it. What about you?

Reference Trees, by Ridsdale, White and Usher, published by Metro Books of New York, 2010

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