Growing up, I always used to associate Palm Sunday with the coming of spring. In the Midwest, spring meant that flowers bloomed and trees blossomed. The earth got green again. Girls put on frilly white dresses and boys were forced to wear pastel ties. The kids waived palm fronds in the air and heard flannel graph stories of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem.

In Southern California, palm trees are everywhere. There are many varieties, but I’m most taken with the really really tall, skinny ones that line some of the streets in Beverly Hills, for example. How do they stay up? They are flimsy looking and yet durable—regal icons watching over the glittery sidewalks and sad-eyed starlets, basking in the Pacific sun and ocean/desert air. On gusty days they sway and wobble, like tipsy flappers at the Coconut Grove. Come morning, they’re still there—minus a few fronds, perhaps.

The first house I lived in—on Redbud Street in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma—had some pretty interesting trees. There were a few peach trees in the backyard from which we occasionally plucked fruit and made pie or cobbler. There were dogwoods and Bradford pear trees, the latter of which was a beautiful white in the spring but had a tendency to lose branches in winter ice storms. And there was a monstrous oak that secreted this vomit-like substance from a few holes in its bark. I never found out what that was all about.

Have you ever been to Yosemite National Park? They have the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. In the park’s famous Mariposa Grove, there are trees with trunks so wide you can drive through them. There are trees there that are more than 2,500 years old. That means that some of the trees that are still growing in this grove were centuries old at the time Christ was walking the earth.

Terrence Malick’s film, The New World (one of my favorite movies ever) has a lot of shots of trees. Trees are important in the film. “Think of a tree, how it grows around its wounds,” says one character. “If a branch breaks off, it don’t stop but keeps reaching towards the light.” The New World is about resiliency—about pushing on amidst hardship, pain, suffering, and striving to make the best of one’s circumstance. Trees are like that—always growing, pulled toward the sky, even when winds and rain and hardship come. They weather all seasons, even if they lose some pieces along the way.

Trees are about life and death. They’re mostly about life, but there’s some death in there too. The thing I love about trees is that even when they look lost and hopeless and perhaps down for the count, there is so often a vitality brimming beneath the bark, or a bud about ready to pop. In the dead of winter, an ugly, dead-looking tree is still very much alive, ready to spring forth with greenery and oxygen when the weather turns. It’s a comfort, and I feel it keenly this Palm Sunday weekend: there’s always a hidden life behind dead-looking things. There’s always the promise of newness and rebirth.

Nothing is ever really dead.

6 responses to “Trees.

  1. I had an art professor in school who talked about the trees she passed on her commute every morning from the freeway onramp. She talked about how they were given a single place from which to grow, and from that one place they expressed themselves, year upon year, even amidst the constraints placed around them (like the enveloping curvature of a concrete onramp).

  2. Do you have a favorite tree?
    Not a favorite KIND of tree, but a favorite tree?

    There’s one here in Rockport, a very shapely little tree, that’s growing out among the rocks near one of the beaches I walk by. I’ve only ever seen it in the winter, so far, without leaves. From the side, on down the beach, the tree looks like it’s leaning back into the land. But up close you can tell it’s standing up straight and very sturdy while the water crashes all around. That’s my favorite tree here.

  3. Yummy. Trees provide such metaphor. They are always crying out!

  4. Brett,

    As it is the one year anniversary of Kansas’ victory, I suppose it is too much to ask for a hat tip to the oak that is Roy Williams?

  5. Oh, I suppose I can offer a hat tip to Mr. Williams. Well done, oh graying one. Though it’s most unfortunate that the game was so ho hum that I had it on mute while listening to NPR’s “All Things Considered” on my computer. When the game finally ended and Tyler what’s-his-name ended his gleeful anticipatory hugging spree, it was such a relief. Really though, congrats.

  6. Heartfelt.

    (And at least his hair is real, unlike the Self-ish one)

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