November 20, 2012

I had Tony the Treeman over last week to inspect some swamp maples, one of which shed a large limb during the Sandy storm.  I wondered from something I saw if there was some indication of rot or weakness elsewhere in the tree.

I took the opportunity towards the end of the conversation with Tony and my neighbor (the trees straddle the property line, I was told by the previous owner of the neighbor’s house) to ask about something I had noticed and puzzled me about the large trees toppled completely in storms.  Where are their large roots?  The general teaching I remembered was to expect a sort of mirror image in the root system of the limbs, branches, and canopy above the ground.  The bottoms of these tree stumps, even when they’re lying in place, don’t seem to have large roots.

Tony said insects.  Critters (I suspect Tony meant “insects” in a broad sense) eat away at the roots, then when there’s a storm, there’s much less anchoring the large tree and it topples.

That’s us, too, I think.  We don’t realize our root system has atrophied until we’re in that metaphorical storm.

What I notice is a “three-little-pig” syndrome.  If someone has established and maintained a healthy root system (analogous to the brick house built by the third little piggy), in a crisis others lean on that person.  I’m talking emotional leaning, not logistical help, which is much less draining.  One of the most helpful things I heard in a grief group at a neighbor’s church years ago was from a young widow on a video tape talking about how some of our problems cannot be handled by our fellow human beings, and how we overburden our relationships if we ask these people to try.  In her general vocabulary, some problems we need to bring to God, to ask for our help from God.  The help is much better (more helpful), too.  Some people, in my experience, who don’t believe in God or in some more impersonal concept of forces greater than ourselves and beyond our control, are happy to try to draft along, or worse, on another person’s strength through faith.

I’m willing to believe that some people have a different root system, one that also works in a crisis and is not one that I’ve referred to directly here, but my point is we need some functioning root system.  The insect issue brings to mind how we may be unaware of the damaged state of our root system.

I think we need to pay more attention to helping people develop their mental hygiene, so that they are not overwhelmed in a storm.  And even people with a pretty good system can have the experience of finding out it has weaknesses, and where they lie, during a storm.


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