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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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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Painting the Roses Red

Blog Post #29

As Alice explored Wonderland, she happened upon three gardeners in the form of playing cards busily painting the queen’s white roses red. When she asked them why they did this, they explained that they had planted white roses by mistake, and were frantically attempting to conceal the error with red paint before the queen found out, lest they lose their heads.

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The image of the playing cards painting the white roses red sprang into my mind a few days ago, as I took stock of my 60-year-old image in the mirror. After conflicting emotions, and months of deliberation, I had decided to stop painting the white roses red. (More accurately, I decided to stop painting the white roots brown.) I couldn’t help but see the comparison. I applied paint hoping to camouflage the white “roses” lest someone noticed they were white instead of red. I’m not sure who would care that the roses weren’t red, or who I thought I was fooling…the only person I can think of is—well, me. I am short at only five-feet, one-inch tall. Anyone even a hair (no pun intended) taller than I could easily detect shimmering silver peeping through unnaturally dark locks atop my head. Most people are too polite to say anything—most, that is, but not all. Twenty years ago, when I was barely forty, a young fellow who stood two heads taller than I detected the shimmer, and with stunned candor, announced to the world (at least, the world inside our house) “you have gray hair!” At that point, I may not have lost my head, but I remember that I lost my composure. I didn’t know how to respond to that, and shrank into silent embarrassment. I had been “found out!” I would have found it no less disconcerting if he had yelled, “Off with her head!”

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For many women, aging means a buffet of life-changes in multiple courses, many of which are sometimes difficult to swallow. Oddly enough, the Smorgasbord of life begins with a feast of desserts! Sweet and palatable, Youth is oblivious to the effects of age, coming with a devil-may-care attitude, a sense of indestructibility, and of time standing still. As one grows into young adulthood, one eases into appetizer trays rich with deep-fried flavor, unhampered by worries of clogged arteries, or muffin tops. Following earlier, carefree times are meat and potato entrées that may consist of choosing a companion, furthering one’s education, pursuing a career, and the responsibilities of family life. A jog around the block pushing a stroller keeps one fit and one’s thoughts far from the vultures of time and gravity waiting patiently to pounce on the carrion of one’s future. One’s thoughts may wander to advanced age, but possibly only in reference to asking grandparents to babysit. Middle age is the time for salads and smoothies—watching what one eats, and guarding one’s health. Finally, during advanced years, one dines on entrails (innards). Awareness of the aging process becomes more difficult to ignore during the entrails course since as one gets older, one’s bodily counterparts to innards tend to become more outspoken. In addition, evidence of other aging issues may be hard to swallow—even when “painted red” by tucking, squeezing, dying, exercising, studying, meditating, or moisturizing. Body shape and size, hair, skin, attitude, behavior, mental acuity, physical capacity, and other sundry changes are inevitabilities of life, leaving bare chicken bones and crumbs from the feast on the plate for one to shiver at with dismay.

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The truth of what I once was, outwardly—a lithe, fair-skinned brunette—is not quite the truth of what, outwardly, I am now. Traces of the past remain, even though, from a distance, one may not see significant alterations. Up close, the telltale signs are flashing in neon. It is hard to avoid the persistent work of time and gravity over the years—evidenced in wrinkles, lines, discolorations, sags, and so on. The mirror reveals the truth bluntly and without the least bit of sensitivity, especially in broad daylight. By evening, the mirror is kinder, but only because the sun in its time of setting paints the light into a soft and rosy hue. (Ah! It appears that as each day ages, the setting sun has sympathy on other aging things, and paints the roses red!)

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During a discussion with my oral hygienist one morning, she declared that of all the changes that come with aging, the loss of pigment is the saddest for her. (She was referring, of course, to her hair.) My reply to this was, “I haven’t lost my pigment. It has relocated: from my head to spots on my face.” We laughed about it, but it is one of the unsettling facts of life that aging has a way of shifting things around, such as pigment, muscle tone, and the “F” word: FAT.  Although my weight is the same as what it was in my youth, how it is distributed is startling and a bit discomfiting. Even dendrites—the neural networks of the brain—are sometimes rearranged or reduced in number and efficiency, wreaking all sorts of havoc for some poor aging souls.

We talk about ‘growing old gracefully,’ but what does that really mean? Is it referring to one’s appearance, one’s mental or emotional state, or one’s behavior? I suspect, all.

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It is, precisely, the question of how one grows old gracefully that prompted my thoughts about painting the roses red. As I stared at my image in the unforgiving mirror, I asked, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, where is the girl who, once, I saw?”

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The glaring feature prompting this chant was my hair. Truthfully, I was never proud of this feature. My hair had always been dark brown and wildly curly—in a frizzy, windblown sort of way. When I was a teen, straight hair was in, and mine was not. I never ironed it, (though it was faddish to do so), nor did I do anything drastic like that, but I did go through time-consuming gyrations to smooth and straighten it out. Inheriting genes for prematurely gray hair, at age fifteen, I held a single strand between my fingers, announcing to my peers, “Look! A blonde hair!” That’s when the mindset that led to ‘painting the roses red’ began. I was in denial, even as a teen. In my early thirties, I was appalled to see myself in a photograph wearing whitish earmuffs on either side of my face around the area of my temples. I wasn’t ready to be gray by thirty-five, so I began the unhappy task of painting the roses red. I didn’t want to be a blonde, or a redhead. I was happy just being what I had always been: a brunette.

After thirty years of applying layer over layer of my “natural” color to mask the gray, (no salon for me—I did it myself), I found I was finally sick and tired of being a slave to white roots. They are persistent and devious—making paparazzi appearances at the least opportune times. Standing in front of the mirror, I wondered if I had strayed from the graceful path of aging. Is covering gray, or accepting it for what it is, considered graceful? I’m not sure I know the answer to that question; one must answer that question for oneself. I do believe growing old gracefully encompasses physical, mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of oneself. I have always envisioned it as meaning one gratefully accepts the inevitable, and makes the most of each blessed day of life—living optimistically, fully, joyfully, and trusting in the eternal plan of a loving Heavenly Father.

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In response to my idea of gracefully aging, I believe it really doesn’t matter if one paints the roses red or not–especially if one finds joy in the process and outcome. Some might argue the “truth thing”—that one is hiding the truth, or deceiving others into believing one is what one is not. Really, now? Is it any different from wearing a little mascara, or blush, or from tanning creams, high-heeled shoes, or control-top pantyhose? A favorite author from my past said that ‘even a barn looked better painted,’ and that one should care enough about one’s appearance to repair broken fences, and add a coat of paint now and then. Who likes an eyesore? Part of taking care of one, and contributing to one’s self-respect is presenting oneself as clean, tidy, and well-groomed. For some, a spot of blush just might brighten one’s appearance and one’s outlook.

At any rate, and thankfully, hiding one’s silvery roots won’t cause one to lose one’s head! It causes me to wonder why it seems such a big deal in the first place—at least to some (including myself). Just as one gradually ages, I have decided to ease my way into my ‘natural’ hair color—or lack thereof. The beautician who cuts my hair, told me I am one of the “lucky ones”—that my roots are silvery white (thanks to my mother), not salt and pepper gray. This “easing into whiteness” will be a gradual process, so as not to shock anyone (most especially so as not to shock me). I will strip the roses of their red paint, and enjoy the beauty of the white roses. White roses have a beauty all their own, do they not? And a white rose, by any other color, will still smell as sweet.

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I will still be me. The me inside—my eternal spirit—still looks out of this aging shell of a body through sixteen year-old eyes. Perhaps therein we find the answer to the question of growing old gracefully. Perhaps growing old gracefully means living the truth of who and what you are within, no matter what alterations occur without. If this is the case, then growing old gracefully should begin in our youth, for shouldn’t we all live a life true to the values and attributes we cherish? Living true to one’s values means not allowing someone else to paint you red if you are truly white.

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I have begun the process of stripping the red paint from my white roses.  Just as one liberates and refinishes an old piece of furniture as one strips layers of chipping paint and faded stain gradually revealing a naturally beautiful wood grain quietly enduring underneath, there is, likewise, a liberating and refinishing quality in tossing out the ‘red’ paint, and relaxing into the ‘white’ reality shining through. Like Alice, one might ask why paint over the white roses in the first place. I might ask myself the same question. I’m not sure the answer is as clear to me as it was to the playing card gardeners. I hope I don’t react like the Queen of Hearts and shout, “Off with her [my] head!”  Perhaps a better question might be, will I come to appreciate and enjoy the white roses for their truth and beauty?

I like to think the answer will be ‘yes.’

© June 12, 2015

© June 12, 2015

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