Lesson from a Mangled Tree

Nature Endures Human Torture

Epic fail. Photo taken September 26, 2015

The Backstory

What goes through your mind and your heart when you look at the photos in this story?

Each person will experience different feelings — feelings of intrigue and those that have the thought along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter. When it dies, cut it down and use the firewood.” Well, personally, I side with the former. What goes through my mind is part awe and wonder (that time and growth are winning) and part sadness that the tree had to go through it in the first place.

I took the photos of the trees in this story on September 26, 2015. My family was walking through a grove of woods in Licking County, Ohio, and we came across an area where a recreational obstacle course was constructed. While others that walked this area were busy playing, I was distracted by the old and new ways that the obstacles were constructed with the use of trees and what was happening right before our eyes, and yet, no one seemed to notice, let alone care. Why?

The Object

This board isn’t going anywhere.

The focus in this case could be several different things, but the mangled tree is where the story and lesson reside.

Most of us have done something like this, whether intentional or not… build a fort, tree house, deer stand, or hammock in the woods using some of the best platforms and anchors around — the tree. Of course, none of us think about the long-term impact of what would happen to the tree.

It is fascinating to see the mangled trees still alive and seemingly absorbing the boards that were bolted to them… like they are engulfing their enemy and suffocating them. In reviewing the first picture, there was a clear attempt made to avoid having the chain hurt the tree with the vertical boards placed to absorb the tightening of the chain. As it turns out, the neglect of of the obstacle’s maintenance over a lot of time caused the tree to squeeze the chain and snap the vertical boards rendering the attempt to not harm the tree completely pointless.

So, why were those “saving” boards put there in the first place? Somebody had the right idea. There was no intent to harm the tree. The focus was on the outcome and joy that was being created. The tree is a means to an end; a tool being used for a greater good or purpose. What happened?

Good intentions and decisions made one day can spell disaster the next. Shoot, as the cliche goes… “no plan survives first contact”… just imagine how that plan plays out over many years; the final outcome is not even close to the original plan. But… maybe it really is part of a plan — just not our plan. The tree is enduring the torture that humans have done to it, but what is surprising in this case, is that the tree is surviving — not dying.

What now? What do you do? Well, my assumption is that it would do more harm than good to remove the board and bolts from the tree and expose the heart of the tree to the elements. The decision has been made, and the only thing left to do is to let it grow and learn from the experience; or as some might say, you dug the hole, now you get yourself out or lay in it.

The Lesson

One of the first questions that comes to my mind when I saw these mangled trees was — how long did it take for the tree to grow around these objects? In my experience watching trees heal, I say many years… my guess in this case… at least 5 years but probably closer to 9 years. It’s frustrating to see how painfully slow the healing process can be, but it can eventually happen.

It is understandable when trees grow into other objects accidentally… like a fence or forgotten bicycle, but it is quite another when attempts to protect the tree are made and then outright forgotten. Why bother with trying to protect the tree in the first place? Why make it look like you have good intentions when you don’t intend to follow through?

All rhetorical questions aside, what can the mangled tree teach us:

  • Don’t just “set it and forget it.” Plan to maintain what you started or kill off what you don’t need anymore. It’ll cost more in the long run to keep something on life support.
  • Think long-term not short-term. Short-term thinking may work at first, but it’ll catch up with us eventually.
  • Be true with your intentions from the beginning.
  • Nature has a way of overcoming.

The next time you think about using a tree as a pole or stand, think about what it means for the future of the tree… or the amount of time or effort that will be needed for you to maintain the tree or for the tree to overcome what you’ve done to it. Maybe, I’m over-exaggerating, but either way, the photo below says it all… it doesn’t matter what we do, nature will prevail.

Nature will overcome human destruction.

BONUS: There is one “tree” that comes to mind that I have to mention as a result of this story… the tree that is THE cross. Yes, the one that Jesus died on to save us from our sins and create a path to heaven for all of us. That is one “tree” that gave its all for the greater good; that sacrificed itself to save others; that endured the pain of humanity, because they know not what they do. We must ask Jesus for forgiveness and let his joy into our hearts to heal our transgressions. The story of Jesus and the cross is the greatest lesson of all.

Written by Shaun Holloway.