From death sprouts new life.
I walk among trees that know the pain of dying. The wise elders that live in my local arboretum weather their share of storms, just like all of us.
Perhaps the worst storm for these trees came on the unseasonably hot evening of June 27, 1894. Heavy clouds rolled in as the sun set. The critters accustomed to dancing at dusk grew still. An eerie calm quieted the trees.
Then the tornado touched down. Limbs snapped. Roots ripped. Branches flew. What took seconds to level would take decades to grow anew, but the forest would flourish again.
One of the monks who lived on the land asked his forester brothers to send seeds from their home in Germany. The seeds—red pine, Scots pine, and Norway spruce—set sail and eventually made their way into central Minnesota soil. Growth took time and trust, as it always does. So much happens underground, in the dark. How tempting it would have been for the forester monk to dig up the seeds and do a quick check just to be sure they were on the right track.
But the wisdom of creation told him no. Best to let the seeds be. Darkness has more work to do.
Now more than a century later, these trees stand as some of the state’s oldest reforested plants. Birds nest in their branches. Animals crawl up and down their trunks. People pass under their shade. These trees bear witness to the rhythm of living and dying and living again.
I awe at the resiliency of these trees. On top of the trauma of a tornado, these trees face brutal tests every winter, when temperatures dip below zero for weeks on end and snow packs a relentless punch. The season can feel never-ending to even the heartiest Midwesterner—and we don’t spend it all outside.
After months of walking through bare branches, my wondering can turn bleak: Will leaves emerge again? Are we sure birds will come back this year? Can we count on green to return?
What rises is more than restless waiting for winter to end. It’s anxiety over what shoe will drop next in our hurtful, hurting world. Life offers so few guarantees. Everything seems to be on track and then, in a blink, it’s not: A drunk driver swerves. A stray bullet connects. Heavy clouds roll in. Love lets you down.
Reality can be so cruel, so cold. Sometimes I doubt redemption will come. Sometimes I lose faith in the rhythm of living and dying and living again.
Then the trees beckon me back on the first warm day of spring. “Look! Do you see the leaves starting to bud?” they say. “Listen! Do you hear the robin chirping from my highest branch? Inhale deeply. Can you smell the sap starting to seep out?”
Trees teach the Easter truth time and again. That’s why I need to get lost among them this time of year. The wise elders of the forest hold a track record I can trust. Year after year the trees bloom anew. Their lives witness to realities not so cruel and cold: Seasons do change. Ice does thaw. Days don’t stay dark forever.
Hope shoots from their branches into my bones. Who knows what will come in this next season? Thanks to the witness of these trees, I do know one thing for sure: From death sprouts new life.