I love trees. The other day I saw the perfect tree. A big, broad maple with long, stretched out, low slung branches in all directions with the perfect rounded canopy reaching upward; in full coppery red fall majesty. It was an awesome sight…and one that will last only a few days. Before long, all of the brightly colored leaves will have fallen off in a carpet of dappled reds and oranges, carpeting the sleeping soil. A tree that large and that far reaching must have an equally impressive root system. It must have to dig deep and burrow far and wide in search of vital water and nutrients. A tree of that kind does not grow in a forest. It is not surrounded by other trees.
Forest trees are tall and narrow with few branches except at the top. Forest trees must work together, share water, breathe together and often die together. If one falls down, many fall with it…and it is only then that a young tree has any chance of becoming a towering member of the forest. There is no standing alone in a forest. But there is protection there in the company of other trees…something that the large, solitary trees do not have much of. They are buffeted by wind and drenched by rain. They are weighed down by snow and struck by lightning. They are on the front lines of a battle that few in the forest could endure.
I have been a forest tree. I have been a part of the crowd trying to survive together. I have experienced the joy of a warm breeze rustling through our raised hands and the gentle rain bouncing off our leaves, watering our thirsty roots. I have also been a field tree, alone in the wilderness spreading my branches as far as I could; always on the lookout for a storm in the distance or the morning sunrise. This is what I’ve learned from both places: You cannot be a big tree in a forest and you cannot be a tall skinny tree on a hill. In other words, even if you’re one of the bigger trees in the forest, you are still part of the forest. You can’t go around knocking and blocking all of those around you looking for more light or digging for more water because the others help to hold you up and share their resources with you. If they were not there you would be too tall and too weak to stand alone and you will fall. Likewise, if you are in the wilderness, you have to be prepared to be alone. You have to dig deep with your roots and reach way out with your branches to strengthen yourself against the storms because no tree from the forest is going to come along and help you…none can.
So which are you? Are you part of the forest or alone in the field? Each have a part to play and each was grown for a purpose. The forest looks to the sentinel and sees the first rustling leaves in the breeze of an approaching storm or the hints of a changing season in the color of its branches. They know to gather in their resources and lace their branches together in prayer. The sentinel in turn looks back at the forest saying, “don’t worry, we’ll get through this. I’ll protect you. Hold on to each other and I’ll spread out my branches to shelter you.” Working together they will weather the storm and become stronger, reach higher, and dig deeper than either could have on their own.