I love trees! They add beauty and variety to any landscape. On a hot day, they are like magnets, drawing us to their comforting shade.
My love for trees goes back a long way. As a child, I loved climbing trees, spending time in a tree house my dad built for us, and swinging on a swing Dad hung from a big branch of the same tree. When I was twelve, my family built a new home on a treeless lot. We wanted trees! My job was to water the many tiny trees Dad planted, and I thrilled to watch them grow. Later, I memorized Joyce Kilmer’s poem (and the song written to it) called “Trees.” The first line is, “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.” I saw trees only as my friends. Later in life, I began to see them as my teachers, too.
Twenty-five years ago, I moved into a new house in a new neighborhood that was almost tree-less. My theme song to my husband Doug was, “I want trees!” Dutifully, he planted and planted and planted. Years later, his theme song to me was, “Our yard is too crowded,” and he began taking out one tree after another in our overgrown yard! Which brings us to the lessons I learned from these trees.
Lesson #1: Look Ahead to the Future
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” (3 Nephi 14:17)
When our trees were tiny, it seemed reasonable to plant more and more, close to other vegetation. But I completely failed to consider the possible growth of each tree over the years. The “fruit” of our labors I did not foresee, and at times it seemed “corrupt.” For instance, we planted a poplar in the middle of our backyard, thinking only of the lovely patch of shade it would offer. However, this tree grew several feet a year and literally took over our backyard. Its roots spread outward in every direction, many on the surface, which made mowing a mighty challenge.
By the time the tree was much taller than the house, my husband decided to become Paul Bunyan and enlisted the help of our youngest son, shown in this picture. Once the tree was felled, Doug had to dig the huge roots out of the ground and then fill up the hole and roll in a new sod carpet of lawn. The new grass is a brighter color green, so we have a constant reminder of our poplar disaster and of the lesson I learned: take the long-term viewwith trees, as well as life in general. We truly need to think ahead! And we need the Lord’s help in order to know what “trees” will bring forth good fruit in our lives and which will bring forth evil fruit. In gospel terms we might say, “keep an eternal perspective.”
Lesson #2: Consider What Each “Tree” We Plant Might Produce
“But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor.” (Jacob 5:32)
Not only do we need to think ahead to the size the tree might eventually be, but also to what it might produce. Some trees produce wonderful, usable fruit. Some trees have beautiful blossoms we can enjoy every spring. Some trees provide shade that is more than welcome and fun for children that love to play in them.
Our mulberry tree fits all those specifications. But it is also a nuisance like many other trees that tree owners have to clean up after. Our mulberry trees produces no welcome or usable fruit, but drops a carpet of squishy purple berries that mess up our yardand our grandchildren! Last summer I took pictures of granddaughters with purple hands and feet after they’d been playing around that tree! As I write, that big tree is once more busy producing loads of tiny unusable berries. The flavor is not bad, but each has a stem that resists being plucked off yet cannot be eaten. Once more we’ll have a carpet of berries on the lawn that stain everything that touches them.
Trees can be such a parable of life. We reap good fruits from some trees and some decisions, and bad fruit from others! Using our agency to choose brings consequences that are so vividly seen in nature. When we plant a tree or make any decision in life we are not always wise enough to foresee what fruit will result. But the fruit comes nevertheless and we must deal with it!
Lesson #3: Even Small Starts Can Have Good Results
“I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6)
One of my favorite trees is our honey locust. I bought it for a dollar on a closeout sale. It was a tiny stick, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to plant it and see what would happen. I watered it faithfully, and today, it is tall, stately, beautiful and sturdy. It is one of the trees that we tie our hammock to in the summer.
Small starts in life can have beautiful results, too. How many times have you doubted that your small efforts were going to produce anything at all, yet lived long enough to see amazing outcomes? If we just do our best, have faith, and wait patiently, marvelous things can happen.
Lesson #4: Don’t Hide Your Beauty
“And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? And not to be set on a candlestick?“ (Mark 4:21)
One of our most beautiful trees is a golden-chain tree that puts forth a fountain of amazing bright yellow blossoms each spring.
Unfortunately, it is rarely noticed because it is tucked back in against the house with other trees and a rose hedge in front of and beside it.
How many of the best talents, gifts, or strengths of those around us go unnoticed and unappreciated? Do you feel yours do? Can you find ways to use your abilities in ways that benefit others and find the courage to bring them out from hiding? Can we have the courage to quit hiding our candle under a bushel? Can we offer encouragement to people who have hidden beauty or unused talents?
Lesson #5: Be Willing to Prune and Cut Down Trees;
Be Willing to Let Go of What No Longer Serves Us
“For afore the harvest, when the bud is perfect, and the sour grape is ripening in the flower, he shall both cut off the sprigs with pruning hooks, and take away and cut down the branches.” (Isaiah 18:5)
One of the most important lessons I learned from so many of my trees is the necessity of letting go. Deciduous trees willingly let go of leaves every fall, and their well-being depends on it. Likewise, I have to learn to let go of whatever is no longer beneficial–even trees that are no longer a benefit to our yard. I wasn’t happy whenever Doug decided a tree had become a liability, and I won’t be happy when we have to cut down the cherry tree. I love my trees, and it is hard to let them go. I don’t even like to see them pruned and sometimes I have begged Doug to let a tree stay “just one more year.” (And sometimes he does!) But whenever he’s pruned a tree or taken a tree out, I’ve had to admit the yard looked better and that the other trees had a better chance to thrive.
And so, my trees have taught me that letting go of things I have loved or enjoyed is never easy but often essential. We so often have to let go. We have to let go of expectations that are not realistic, of dreams that won’t come true (at least in this life), of grief that bows us down. Letting go can clear the landscape of our lives, let in more sun, and help us make the best of what we still have. We need to ask the Lord to help us let go.
Lesson #6: Be Grateful
“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” (D&C 78:19)
So many times with tree choices, and in life choices, we simply are blessed. We don’t really know what the long-range results will be, but they turn out good! Two trees in our front yard illustrate that principle. I don’t even know their names, but we love them. Year after year, the first tree stays a perfect size and shape for the area it’s in. The variety of fall colors in its leaves astound us.
The second is a perfect example of a happy accident. We thought we were planting a bush and it turned into a tree that has white blossoms in the spring, a variety of colors of leaves in the autumn, but that never loses its glossy green leaves all winter long. And we just happened to plant it in a place where its size hasn’t been a problem. Are we grateful? Oh yes! Gratitude for every fortuitous happening can add color and joy to everyday life. And gratitude for life’s lessons learned when things are hard can sweeten the most bitter experience. Gratitude is the root source of whatever sweetness we find in life.
Lesson #7: Persevere and Endure through Afflictions
“Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many; but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days.” (D&C 24:8)
Our big mulberry tree persevered through affliction. At one point, the main tree died and had to be cut down, but it left a cluster of small shoots that we decided to let grow.
The part of the tree that lived was way off balance, so the tree compensated with amazing curved limbs. This is one of the trees my grandchildren find just right for climbing, and the birds love the mulberries it produces even if we don’t!
Have you had experiences in your life that would compare with that tree? Or have you known people who have had a hard start, cut down by disease or accident early on, yet compensate, persevere, and continue growing?
Another of my favorite trees is our artificial cherry tree (like the ones that dot the landscape for Washington, D.C.’s National Cherry Blossom Festival). Our beautiful tree is afflicted with a slow-moving but fatal disease. A professional advised us it was too late to save the tree. But in the meantime, every spring, it continues to put forth the most beautiful lacy pink blossoms I’ve ever seen. It continues to stand firm as one side of our hammock support. I observe this tree enduring its affliction and still doing what it can do, and so should we!
I loved Elder Anderson’s analogy in his April 2014 general conference talk called <a href="https://www.<hr class='system-pagebreak' /><hr class='system-pagebreak' />lds.
<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />org/general-conference/2014/04/spiritual-whirlwinds?lang=eng”>“Spiritual Whirlwinds.” He said, “In nature, trees that grow up in a windy environment become stronger. As winds whip around a young sapling, forces inside the tree do two things. First, they stimulate the roots to grow faster and spread farther. Second, the forces in the tree start creating cell structures that actually make the trunk and branches thicker and more flexible to the pressure of the wind. These stronger roots and branches protect the tree from winds that are sure to return.
“You are infinitely more precious to God than a tree. You are His son or His daughter. He made your spirit strong and capable of being resilient to the whirlwinds of life. The whirlwinds in your youth, like the wind against a young tree, can increase your spiritual strength, preparing you for the years ahead.”
Lesson #8: In the Winters of Life, Don’t Despair: Spring Will Come!
“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Most of our trees, and all of our rose bushes and raspberry bushes, appear to be dead all winter long. Every winter I could short-sightedly mourn their loss. But each spring the miracle recurs: tiny buds and leaves begin to form, and soon this great symbol of renewal and rebirth and resurrection bursts forth again. I see it as God’s reminder that no matter how dead our dreams, no matter how bleak circumstances may appear, He will make all things new again.
I’ve seen this cycle of deadness and renewal in my own life and the lives of friends and family dozens of times! And I believe with all my heart that Christ broke the bands of death and we will see the spring-like miracle of resurrection of all the loved ones we have lost. Christ DID overcome the world, and He DID break the bands of death. And He gave us the symbol of spring with our trees coming to life again to remind us.
We can take these eight life lessons taught by trees and build a better life. Because trees are part of our every-day life, they can be a constant reminder. Gospel symbols in nature are all around us. The earth does bear record of the glory of God and His plan of happiness for us. We can learn, grow, and be better because of it.
Author note: Do you know someone whose life has been impacted by the suicide of a loved one? The common pattern is to avoid the subject and avoid processing the grief, but there is a better way. Help them find “the peace that surpasses understanding” by pointing them to one of the following: If they are LDS, direct them to After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Faith to Go On. If they are not LDS, direct them to: Finding Hope while Grieving Suicide: Opening Your Heart to the Healing Only God Can Give. For more information go to my website: www.darlaisackson.com.