Growth buds are tear dropped-shaped bits where new growth occurs on a tree. I don’t think it is a coincidence that they are shaped as tears, as our greatest growth is often the result of our deepest sorrows. On occasion, we find unexpected surprises in the growth of trees that provides perspective for our most challenging moments.
Just outside the window of my parent’s bedroom of my childhood home was a large Silver Leaf Maple Tree. It grew outback towering over a small shed my father erected as a kind of catch all for his numerous garden tools and miscellaneous farm accessories. Planted before my birth and well into maturity by the time I noticed its existence, this tree was augmented with bicycle handles that someone serendipitously placed between the developing twigs well before they flourished into thick branches. The tree adopted it as a grafted branch and those handlebars served as a way of quickly and easily accessing the heights of this beloved tree. Marveling at this cyborg like amalgamation of nature and mechanics would hold my attention for hours. The bicycle handlebars were often sticky to the touch as the tree honored it as it did the rest of its many boughs and branches, with nutrient rich sap.
As I contemplate those handlebars protruding seemingly magically from the trunk of that tree, I’m in awe of how they managed to stay there as the tree grew up around it. From what I’ve read, Silver Leaf Maples are sometimes planted specifically for their ability to grow quickly and provide abundant shade. I imagine that this was in my Dad’s head when he planted the tree, he was always looking into practical ways to manage and reduce the cost of living, and perhaps he calculated that the ample shade provided by the tree in its maturity would cool the house significantly in the humid Arkansas summers. But what about those handlebars? I suspect that one of my older siblings put the handlebars there as the tree begin to sprout, but then to exercise the discipline to leave them there? This would be heroic for anyone, but for anyone under eighteen, this would be a herculean display of patience, of a variety that Job himself would envy. And what of my Dad? This doesn’t seem like an action he would have endorsed as he has always been particular about the look of his trees, lawn, and garden. It is hard for me to imagine him seeing those random bicycle handlebars in the middle of the tree and just leaving them there.
But somehow they were there, and remained there, until the tree had grown up around them, making their extraction impossible. Is it possible that everyone just forgot about them, ignoring it altogether until it was too late? Or was the person who placed the handlebars there acting as a sort of secret benefactor watching over them from afar, insuring they weren’t molested as they rested between the buds of the flourishing twigs? And if they were removed, quickly replacing them, tenaciously dedicated to their survival as an eventual artificial outgrowth of this tree. Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above?
I do know that whatever the reason for their existence in this tree, they did not exist naturally. Someone saw to it that these bicycle handlebars became a part of this tree. Like those handlebars in the Silver Leaf Maple in the backyard of my youth, there are many artificialities that are now in full blossom in my life. Branches of encumbrance and practical utility miraculously flourish among the meristems of my existence. In most instances, I do not know how they got there, only that they exist. Perhaps some were put there and faithfully cared for by a benevolent deity or destructive demon. Sometimes it is hard to judge the origin simply by the outcome, as human emotions and motivations are a mixed bag. Maybe they are the result of a misplaced or suppressed feeling that metastasized over time, and now I feel obliged to feed these appendages as they drain me of energies and nutrients that would be better spent investing in more productive endeavors had I the courage to sever them from myself. Alas, I lack the moral courage to cut them off. These are the thoughts that I might muse, had I the luxury of climbing that tree once again, as I often did in the past.
In moments of reflection and despair as a child and teenager I would climb that Silver Leaf Maple. As I sat high above the top of my Daddy’s shed, I would look out across the Delta flat land for miles. As it often does, a change of perception provided perspective. I think a lot about the solace I experienced sitting in that tree. I imagine that through the lens of nostalgic reflection the tree was much larger and taller than it was in reality, but gaining perspective is a gift that benefits us all, even if it is somewhat embellished. As I write this, I’m reminded that this very action of putting words to page now serves as a way of traversing the limbs of time and finding perspective on the past, evaluating the present, and looking over into the future. As it turns out I still enjoy sitting here in the tree, albeit a metaphorical one, and out of these trees spring a plethora of handlebars in the form of stories that have artificially mediated my personal lens of experience and memory. This isn’t to say these recollections aren’t true and meaningful, only that, like the handlebars in the Silver Leaf Maple of my youth, they didn’t grow naturally.
I’m not the first to make these connections, Robert Bringhurst in The Tree of Meaning writes, “Those trees, the trees of meaning we call stories, grow in your brain and the rest of your body. And there seems to be a symbolic relation between those trees of meaning and ourselves. What stories get out of it is that they get to exist. What we get out it is guidance. Stories are one of the fundamental ways in which we understand the world.”
The Silver Leaf Maple offered a renewed existence to an otherwise obsolete piece of metal and plastic, and in turn provided for me a leg up, quite literally, to a new perspective in difficult moments. In the same way these musings give me solace from the increasingly dark world just outside my door, and sometimes encroaching into my house. The handlebars didn’t belong in the tree, but neither did I. But because of the diligence or apathy of some outside force the resulting relationship between the life giving tree and the foreign elements of the handlebars and myself found a way to produce something more beautiful than anything we could ever produce in isolation.
Reminds me of another metaphor involving trees and branches. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” –Jesus in John 15:5
Growth happens. Sometimes the best growth happens with the assistance of tears, just like handlebars in unexpected places, or as my brother Ron describes that old Silver Leaf Maple, “When the wind blew the leaves shined like silver coins in the air.” May the persistent wind of troublesome times reveal an equally glorious shimmering in us. Perspective. Indeed.