Sunday, April 22, 2012

Within The Bark

     It's a chilly, grey, windy, rainy Atlanta spring Sunday morning. The overcast sky is tense and opaque, its cloudy veil silently obscuring the sun so that I can't tell where the ambient light is coming from. In this dark light, there are no shadows: all contrast is blurred. I can barely discern the outline of that clever rascal squirrel, the grey-brown one who lives in the old oak tree outside my kitchen window, the same one who regularly teases my dogs. He melts into the tree's trunk, perfectly camouflaged amidst the gnarls and knots, a localized, pulsating vibration concealed within the bark. Unless he's scurrying along the top surface of a branch or up the side of the trunk, it's impossible to tell where he ends and the tree begins. It's as if they've become married in this luminous haze.
     I feel very much alive. My eyes are welling up with tears, and I don't know why. Everything is just so beautifully complex. There are many old scars on the tree from where branches were once broken or pruned, none of which will ever be healed. Unlike us, a tree can't replace its injured tissue. In an effort to preserve equilibrium, it will form a graceful callus boundary around the wound to seal it off as it redirects the flow of nutrients to viable structures within its tree body. A tree fixes itself without ever repairing an injury, but its seemingly inert bark contains a secret, invisible to the naked eye. Just beneath its dead outer layer lies a delicate living network of phloem vessels which delivers sugar to the rest of the tree, dutifully prepared by leaves that photosynthesize the sun's light into stored chemical energy. Like our skin, bark is alive, yet dead.
     A tree grows itself, and we grow ourselves, and growth is to awakening as quiescence is to peaceful slumber. Trees grow up and out, while we grow up, then out. How do we know when to grow, and when to stop growing? My skin grows until it dies; it stays with me for as long as I need it, and when it's no longer useful, I part with it, layer by layer. Every dead cell is replaced with one that's new. Unlike the tree, I can repair and regenerate most of what's been injured. Similar, yet strikingly different in our complexity, this tree and I share an intimate knowledge of our inner workings beyond the cellular level. I don't know how or why we do it, but the tree just trees and I just be. The bark and skin house the wondrous mysteries within, and I'm left wondering if some ancient fragment of me is also tree.


  1. Beautiful, Kris. Sometimes I do wonder if trees and people are really that different-or if it's only the skin or shell around our being that's different.

    1. I think there are a lot of interesting similarities between us and our tree friends.

  2. Lovely post Kris!
    It reminds me of a poem by zen master Dogen that goes something like:

    Sitting quietly, doing nothing
    Spring comes
    and the grass grows all by itself

    1. I love that poem, Wim! This tree out in my yard is so inspiring to me.