We have a green ash tree on our acreage that is a survivor. It has an obvious lean in the direction of the prevailing winds. It is so crooked and so wounded that we have contemplated cutting it down. But its perseverance moves us, and we allow it to live.
There are gaping wounds where big branches have broken off in windstorms. You can see the scabs that the tree has grown to protect the vulnerable sapwood under the bark.
To help the tree survive strong winds without more damage, we have begun pruning and shaping the branches that are left. We have taken off many branches on the tilted side, to decrease the amount of weight on the remaining branches. This leaves more wounds, but the tree knows to grow a scab over the wound.
And yet, this tree is a favorite for the birds. A bird feeder hangs from a branch and we can watch the chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, blue jays, grossbeaks and the occasional squirrel come to feed and then perch high in the branches. I doubt that the birds care about the wounds and the scabs on this tree.
So what has made this tree so resilient, such a survivor? The branches that weren’t strong or balanced enough were broken off in numerous wind storms. Other branches needed to be pruned off to balance the tree and take weight off the tilted side. The most amazing thing is that we think the tree is actually standing up straighter over time, as the branches that weighed it down and tilted it are gone. Perhaps most importantly, the roots have not been damaged by the wind and they form a firm foundation that grows deep down into the earth and supports the tree.
I think about the life of this tree in relation to our human lives. As the Covid pandemic rages on, we too have lost some of our ‘branches’ - jobs and businesses in jeopardy, social connections prohibited, the possibility of illness or even death. I don’t have any wisdom to offer around how to best cope with all the stresses we face. We will each find our own sources of strength. For me, this battered tree reminds me that strength and resilience are possible.