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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #30: New Growth and Lessons in Resilience


At last, spring has sprung in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania, and I’m enjoying seeing color and life return to the landscape after a dreary and mostly snowless winter.


The grass is greening up. Purple clusters of grape hyacinths, aka “bluebells,” are popping up amongst the rocks along the edge of the field. The woods, pencil-drawn in stark black-and-white for the past five months, now burn with a red sheen as the trees come into bud.


Everywhere, new life, new growth. You can never keep Nature down for long—hope springs eternal in her breast.


To my delight and relief, some of this new growth is happening to the trees I planted around the house last fall. I planted four trees in all—a Redpointe maple, a weeping willow, a pink dogwood, and a Heptacodium “Temple of Bloom” – getting them in the ground before frost hit.


I did the planting myself, leaning on skills I learned forty years ago while working summers at a garden center. I was proud of myself when I finished the work, being that these trees are big (the willow and the maple are more than ten feet tall) and I am no spring chicken. The trees looked pretty darn straight when planted and I liked where I had placed them around the property.


But then a week after I put them in the ground in November, a rogue buck decided to use the new trees as his personal rubbing posts. He scraped up three of the trees—the willow, the dogwood, and the Heptacodium—pretty badly, and I was afraid the trees would not survive the winter.


As the weather has gotten warmer over the past few weeks, I’ve been checking out the trees whenever I’m up at the property, looking for signs of life. I spent about a thousand dollars on the trees when I bought them from a local grower. They are my babies. I want to see them grow and flourish.


For a while, I saw no signs of growth and I feared the worst. But then these past two weeks as the temperatures shot up, I noticed the tree buds beginning to swell and turn red. My babies are alive! The rogue buck did not kill them after all.


The willow tree is the most dramatic in its new growth. Its long, graceful branches are filled with sprouts that give the tree an iridescent green glow when viewed from a distance. It’s quite beautiful.


The maple has also budded and is sporting dark red leaflets. I’m looking forward to seeing those beautiful maple leaves in the summer and the fall.


The Heptacodium is also beginning to push out green shoots. I’ve never planted a Temple of Bloom before, but I understand it puts out fragrant pink flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I can’t wait to see it in blossom.


As for the dogwood, the one tree that the buck left untouched, it is not yet pushing out leaves, but I do see the buds swelling. In another week or two, it, too, should be showing green shoots of growth.


The trees are a reminder to me of the amazing resilience of Nature. In my book The Long Walk Home, I write about a twisted crabapple tree that I came across during my 22-mile walk home from the office on the day when I learned I’d be losing my long-time corporate job. The crabapple tree had grown around a rusted old fence post, so that it was hard to distinguish the tree trunk from the post. Despite this obstacle, the tree had grown tall and lush and was loaded with fruit.


We human beings share in the resilience of Nature. With the right attitude and some tender loving care, we can bounce back from almost any obstacle thrown in front of us. The important thing, it seems to me, is to maintain our optimistic faith in the face of adversity. Faith and resilience are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.


This is one of the things I love about Nature: It constantly offers us valuable lessons about life and our own essential human natures, if only we look for those lessons.


Wherever you happen to be in the world, whatever adversities you may be facing in your lives, I pray that you keep Nature’s ever-hopeful, ever-renewing spirit of faith alive in your hearts. Aside from love, it may be the most powerful force in the universe, and you have it inside you, same as I have it within me.


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