Have you ever noticed how much there is to be learned from Nature?
On my solitary walks I observe many things, especially the beautiful trees abounding in my neighbourhood, and the more I examine these fellow beings we take so much for granted, the more miraculous they appear. Their diversity is astonishing, incorporating so many different forms, leaf shapes and wondrous textures of bark.
Since childhood, the aspect I have found most intriguing is their adaptation, not only to their surroundings but, more poignantly, to adversity. Whenever I drew trees they would always bear the scars of lost limbs, the calluses they grew to cover their wounds providing texture and a kind of ancient, mythic beauty on the otherwise smooth trunks. My trees would always have strong, sinuous root structures which anchored them firmly to the ground and provided niches for tiny flowers to grow. It was not until many years later that I came to understand the symbolism produced by a subconscious mind determined to survive and thrive against the odds.
The memory of these childhood drawings re-emerged as I examined a tree trunk earlier this week, inspiring me to search for other examples and meditate on their parallels to human adaptation.
Riven, perhaps, by lightning or decaying from within, this tree survives. Its canopy is intact, yet its strength is compromised and it attempts to compensate by sending up new growth from its roots. Eventually it may topple in a storm, or simply succumb when termites destroy its heartwood.
Yet the wounds are always evident – indeed they have become the defining characteristic of the tree.
A long time ago, someone believed that wound paint would speed the healing of this tree. We now know that it doesn’t work, but that was the received wisdom of the era. Consequently, the effort to cover up the wound ensured that despite eventual healing and the beauty of the surrounding bark whorls, the scar remained very prominent.
Integration! As with the previous picture, I am fascinated by the way the bark follows the outline of the wound; harmonious and graceful, the line flows around the sealed lesion, incorporating completely the trauma of bygone days.
How do we heal? Does our suffering blight our lives at a single stroke? Does it eat away at us from within? Does it define us or make us stronger? As I collated the photographs I considered my own life journey and the often tortuous paths I took in order to integrate those phenomena described by Shakespeare as “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”
The natural world has so much to teach us. We have only to open our eyes and reflect upon what we see…