Sarah’s Slice of Life: Trees for the Forest

One of the most prolific moments of my childhood had to do with a tree. It was an apple tree, specifically, a massive one that stood in the backyard of my great-grandmother’s house. My family and I lived there for a few months when I was in elementary school, and besides the obviously haunted dirt cellar that contained old, canned jars of tomatoes, the tree remains the thing I remember most about living there.

The tree became a fixture not only in the yard, but in my life as well. In the spring, a beehive dangled from the spindly branches, and I watched as the apples turned from green to a glossy red. When rotten apples dropped from the branches, they littered the grass like acorns, clouding the air with a sickly-sweet smell. Flies and bees and butterflies flittered around the trunk, and when the sun fell in the sky, the light glazed the branches with gold.

Thunderstorms terrified me as a child, and for good reason, because a storm ultimately felled the apple tree. I stood in front of an upstairs window and watched the tree topple, the branches snapping in the rain, the leaves shedding like shingles from a roof. All at once, the tree lay spread on the ground like it had fallen days or weeks ago and not just
seconds before.

That moment solidified my childhood fear of storms, but now, more than anything, I mourn the falling of that tree. We moved from that house not too long after the tree crashed down. On a poetic note, I suppose the apple tree marked the passage of time, signaling that change had arrived and it was time to press ahead into an uncertain future.

From that moment forward, I’ve been fascinated with trees. I grew up surrounded by them — passing great looming oaks on my way to school, sitting under the pink blossoms of a Japanese silk tree and watching willows sway in the wind
like dancers. 

Trees are ordinary staples in our everyday lives, marking the shifts from season to season and illustrating the beauty of time. Trees grow with us, adding rings to their trunks as we add years, but they also stay standing long after we become nothing more than memories etched into their bark.

However, one of the things I love best about trees begins with a hatred, specifically, a hatred for the old axiom of “don’t miss the forest for the trees.” 

Of course, there’s nothing innately wrong with this saying, and it holds much wisdom. Nevertheless, I still hate the saying because it undercuts the value of trees. If trees grow everywhere and we see them most often, that probably means we ignore them because of their abundance.

However, this shouldn’t dictate their value, nor should we let it dictate the way we view something as ordinary as the small tree growing in the median strip beside the traffic light. There’s much wisdom in looking at the forest, but that doesn’t mean we should miss the trees in the process either. 

That’s what I love most about trees. They point toward the value in ordinary things, illustrating that simplicity sometimes equates to greatness and subtle splendor is often more powerful than bombastic beauty.

Ultimately, trees give us the opportunity to practice a “listening air,” as poet Robert Frost writes in his poem “The Sound of the Trees.” This simply means that we position ourselves to actually notice the ordinary things we often take for granted. Trees — from the dark pines to the bone-white winter birches — offer us this chance to notice and admire.

Of course, I knew none of this when that apple tree toppled. I just knew that something that had always existed in my great-grandmother’s backyard didn’t exist anymore. 

This instance points to another notion about trees — and ordinary things as a whole. It’s perhaps the most important thing, the ultimate reason why we shouldn’t miss the trees for the forest. 

I believed that apple tree would stand forever, but I watched it crash down. Every day, we should appreciate ordinary things like trees while we still have the opportunity to do so. 

After all, you never know when the next storm will arrive. 

Tate is the Editor-in-Chief for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter

Sarah Tate, Editor-in-Chief

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