I first noticed a nearby tree in the fall, when its leaves were turning.
The entire tree was large and full, but what I noticed most were the variations in its colors that started with green at the base of the branches and then continued up through its symmetrical body to the very tip in a near full rainbow of color.
It seemed to practically undulate, like bursting burgundy-tipped, green-to-chartreuse-to-yellow-
Vibrant, lush, and mesmerizing.
Every winter, though, the tree shed its leaves like the emperor’s new stylist, leaving a bare frame that hardly resembled the previous fall’s abundance.
A few months later, as springtime approached, I almost couldn’t spot it again—but this time, it was for a new reason.
The tree had bright, bubblegum-pink blossoms covering its skeletal branches—a color so startling I nearly thought it was a different tree. Gorgeous, fresh, and lush again, but in an entirely new way. Gone were the rainbows of brilliant flames of fall. Gone was the John Cage spareness of winter. Completely transformed once again with full, pink, dewdrop flowers, the tree in spring anticipates the upcoming exuberance of summer’s emerald foliage.
Reinvention, brought on by a quiet nakedness.
I felt like this tree in winter. A beloved relationship had ended, I was back in a city I never thought I would live in again, I was facing health issues alone at an age I never thought I would, and in every way, my life felt foreign. I felt like a bare tree having just lost all its gorgeous multicolored leaves—like a tree suddenly void of all its fullness and identifying features and trapped in the middle of a deep, deep coldness.
I wondered if reinvention was even possible for me.
And yet, in watching the transformation of this particular tree, I realized that my life could—I could—experience a reinvention and renewal, and that even if what came of it looked different than the past, it probably should. I realized that there was more to me than what I had previously used to identify myself.
The me inside, like any good tree, was rooted much deeper.
Watching the transformation of this particular tree illuminated three (tree, perhaps) lessons in what I like to call “treeness:”
Treeness Lesson #1: Trees ripen in age without shame, becoming stronger and more abundant. As slow witnesses of the universal ebb and flow, they stand, simply and nobly, adding one more ring, experiencing one more cycle of change. We obviously cannot continue living as a tree does for hundreds or thousands of years, but we can live as long as we are allowed to as active witnesses who age more nobly, ripening with wisdom and abundance and without shame.
Treeness Lesson #2: Even when parts of a tree noticeably change—branches, leaves, blossoms, fruit—the roots still grasp deep in order to nourish and support each part. Just like the stall between seasons, there is much more going on inside a person than what is visible. What we see is either an expression of rumblings in a person’s roots or an experiment of listening to their own imperial stylist—what’s displayed on the outside. Clothing, hair, makeup, and more change, but people are still people embedded in this human experience and deserving of kindness, respect, and a little benefit of the doubt.
Also, no matter what or when we decide to change in ourselves, keeping up our own nourishment is crucial. Eat well, brush and floss, rest deeply, and feed the spirit with kindness, generosity, service, and beauty—because what we feed our roots will eventually show up in the details of our leaves, the fragrance of our blossoms, and the sweetness of our fruit.
Treeness Lesson #3: It’s almost cliché to say, but seasons change. Some have more fullness, energy, and precipitation, while others have bareness and bitter cold. However, they all act as reliable beginnings and endings to each other, just like the different phases of our lives. The death of things and the life of things are inextricably linked, and a necessary and even beautiful part of life.
My life now might look different than before, and it will probably appear even more different in the future. I hope so. A woman’s life, especially, may have very different but recurring seasons, but they are all part of the one tree: the individual—living, breathing, and weathering the storms of life.
And so, as I have lived through the dread of loss and delighted in the sprouting of new kinds of abundance, I know in the sense of how we all know, or hope to know, or even dare to hope to know, that there is some sort of greatness waiting in my roots—in all our roots—and in each accumulated ring that will manifest itself once, maybe twice, or maybe with each recurrent season.
And I know that the cycle, the beauty of the experience, is really what it’s all about—for all of us.
Author: Kiri Manookin
Editor: Callie Rushton