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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

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I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

quaking-aspen-trees_1497_600x450

As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

Quercus_robur Oak

These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

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I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

orange

Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

sycamore leaf

Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

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One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

oak tree.jpg

A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

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“In Defense of Worthy Words “

Blog Post #6 (Soapbox)

Illumination
 “Refinement in speech is more than polished elocution. It results from purity of thought and sincerity of expression. A child’s prayer on occasion may reflect the language of heaven more nearly than a Shakespearean soliloquy.”  – Douglas L. Callister https://www.lds.org/ensign/2009/06/our-refined-heavenly-home?lang=eng

I love beautiful words. I love to hear words eloquently spoken. I love to read powerful and illuminating words. I love words of truth. I love words that inspire a wellspring of goodness, virtue and light.  


I know a man—a very scholarly man—whose speech is that of a farm boy. Yet this humble, quiet man speaks with power and authority. He isn’t loud or bombastic. He doesn’t sound practiced in oratory skills. His words are born of years of sacrifice, intense study, and a commitment to principles of integrity. The words that flow from his mouth are deep, sincere, quiet, simple, and ring with truth that resonates in the deepest fibers of the soul.

This post is in defense of worthy words,—not ostentatious, redundant, or vulgar words—but words that cheer, uplift and enlighten. A farm boy’s drawling speech is of far greater worth than that of a hundred skillful orators if his words transcend theirs in wisdom and truth.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 
‘It might have been.”  
― John Greenleaf WhittierMaud Muller – Pamphlet


“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. 

Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” 

― Michael OndaatjeThe English Patient


  “We live and breathe words.” ― Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince



Words are important. They can alter relationships. They can bind hearts. Words are in and through every part of life. They Challenge, Inspire, Uplift, Depress, Weary, Strengthen, Appease, and Unite. Words begin and end wars.

Words are the beats in the metronome of language. When arranged in various phrases, with varying punctuation, the same words can mean completely different things, having completely different *effects.
Look at how words have shaped art, philosophy, emotion, and action: think Shakespeare and the scriptural language of Tyndale, think music lyrics and poetry, think Lincoln, Emerson, Wordsworth, and a host of others.

I’ve never understood why there are learned people who choose to pollute and dilute their communications—particularly the written word—with unworthy words. I am always especially surprised to hear and read swear words coming from a teacher, just as I’m often astonished to find a singer smoking. It’s baffling to me. It’s paradoxical. Why do they choose to do it?
A teacher, by virtue of his or her position instructing and correcting others, might at least attempt to articulate the most accurate and lucid words the English language has to offer. To teach is to model. While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words uttered speak volumes about a person’s character.

Recently, I’ve noticed Facebook posts by a teacher I knew when I was a student in the public school system many years ago. His remarks sounded intelligent and friendly until he introduced crude and obscene words into some of his posts. At first, I thought it was just a slip of the pen, but I finally decided it was intentional. I no longer read his posts because I never know when these unwelcome surprises will surface. 

I was saddened by this revelation. Disappointed, really. For a man with a cultured persona, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would include foul language in his words to the public. He had to make a conscious choice to include obscenities. 

I realize that writing isn’t the same as speaking. When speaking, it’s easier to let inappropriate words slip out unintentionally, especially in emotionally charged situations, or when a habit of swearing already exists. A word sometimes escapes out of the mouth without thought, but unworthy spoken words are never retractable. They are like seeds in the wind, blowing wherever the wind (and people) will carry them, planting  ignoble thoughts in the minds of others.


When writing (as in a Facebook post) it’s so simple to delete or rethink words. Every word is retractable, exchangeable, and erasable. It’s easy to find relevant and appropriate words on the computer with Google and a thesaurus only a click away.
 

Visual Thesaurus for “word”


I guess I hold teachers to a higher standard of communication than the average person. Not because I think they’re better than others are, but because they should know better than others do by virtue of their position among those “enlightened by knowledge.” They should value the beauty and utility of language enough to use the most descriptive and accurate words for any given situation. They should respect those they once taught, and those they continue to influence, by holding their torch for the written word a little higher than average.
In my mind, using expletives demonstrates a lack of mastery of the English language. A person who uses expletives and vulgarities to express a wide range of emotions and descriptions reveals a limited vocabulary. Of all people, a teacher should value the example they set when it comes to word usage. After all, words, and word usage form a primary part of their job description. Communicating ideas, concepts, facts, principles and ideals is a high and noble occupation.

Plato, the teacher of Aristotle
from “The School of Athens” by Raphael

Would a professional athlete, such as Michael Jordan, purposely fumble or mishandle the ball on court? Wouldn’t it outrage his adoring fans? Wouldn’t that set him up for ridicule? Wouldn’t he infuriate his employers? I may be wrong, but I doubt he would allow himself to consider doing such a thing. It would be a humiliation to his high personal standards of performance. I think he would always perform to the best within himself. 
Why do we expect less of teachers? They are professionals. They are every bit role models for those in their sphere of influence as athletes are in theirs. Teachers who purposely use foul language show a slovenly contempt for the highest ideals of education they represent. They trample beautiful language under their feet while elevating the weakest, most deplorable form of speech. 


 “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, 

we seek after these things.” 

– Joseph Smith13th Article of Faith 

I love beautiful language. I love eloquent speech. I am not eloquent in speaking myself. I often trip over my tongue. I am verbose. I can say nothing in a million words. Perhaps it is better to speak simply—or to remain quiet—than to impugn one’s own character, while showing a lack of respect for those around you with unworthy, vulgar and profane language.
I have deep respect for most teachers. I’ve worked among them. I know how many strive to use worthy and appropriate words, and to live a high standard of behavior—“to walk their talk.” In reality, we are all teachers. Someone somewhere is watching us, listening to us, noting our example, and maybe doing and saying as we do. 

I hope my words are always worthy ones.

*See Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


© Copyright May 15, 2014