“How did this get here?!” Brian seizes a seemingly inoffensive plant, wraps its long, whiplike stalk around his arm, and begins to pull. The few small green leaves that remain tremble and some fall off, but the plant remains staunchly rooted.
on Kathy’s Hill of Brian and Mary’s property, forty-eight acres that
are being cultivated by these two ardent biologists, nature-lovers and
God-lovers. They’re also my best friend’s parents, my pseudo-parents
since middle school. This property is slowly being restored to reflect
the natural prairies, wetlands, and forest that once covered this
rolling Minnesota landscape. Kathy’s Hill has been planted with hundreds
of black walnut seeds, and four years later the tallest are over three
feet, sturdy and sure of their promise.
But here on the hill, far from the low forest they usually infect, is the bane of every Minnesota plant lover: invasive buckthorn. As October fades to November and dead leaves rattle on trees, these are virtually the only green things left as we scan the barren woods. Buckthorn doesn’t belong here. Minnesota plants don’t know how to live in balance with it, and thus it grows, rampant and unchecked, choking out native plants and overrunning the woods.
yanking it up ourselves: twist the long stem around your arm, grab hold
at the base, and pull!! If we’re lucky, a long, thready root, blackened
with rich loam, appears. Satisfied with our kill, we toss the dying
plant into the woods. Sometimes, though, the skinny plant puts up a
fight. It’s an older plant, and partnered with the stems around it, the
roots defeat us.
Brian’s still pulling the plant, tugging from different angles, angry that this intruder would disrupt his beautiful walnut forest. Greg tries his hand; the two men go back and forth. It is a small plant and should not be putting up this fight. Mary, Brian’s other, calmer half, observes with amusement.
did this plant get so strong?!” Brian grunts, yanking to no avail. He
straightens and scowls at the small offender. His eyes brighten with a
grim light. “I know what happened. This is one I pulled last year, but
it broke off and the roots stayed. This is the second growth.” Though
the visible plant is only one summer old, the root system has two
seasons and well over a year under its belt. Things are not always what
As we resume our walk, Brian points out more young trees. They’re so small, but in thirty years this will be a mighty forest. Elm, maple, oak. “The oak are harder to see,” Brian explains. “They spend the first several years sending down roots. They don’t start their above-ground growth until they’re five years old or more.”
The analogies are easy and come to me quickly. I’ve known people like this. My own husband is one: he took an extra semester to graduate high school, but now has a master’s degree. Throughout his teens and early twenties his parents shook their heads and tried not to despair. Everyone around him was growing and maturing visibly, buying houses and accumulating degrees; Greg was facing rejection and living in his parents’ basement.
But Greg was growing. He was not hiding from adulthood, he just wasn’t growing in visible ways. His growth was below-ground, sending down taproots, learning to draw his strength from the Word of God and find his meaning in purpose in who God says he is. Now, at thirty-eight, he is a tall, strong, firm tree. Many come to him for his steady compassion and wisdom. I was lucky enough to marry him.
pass another little walnut tree. Brian examine its thick, bare
branches. “It’s been a dry year,” he comments, “but these trees should
be fine. They were planted as seeds.” I don’t understand, and question
him further. “Well, when you get a sapling from the greenhouse, it
doesn’t have the same root system. If you plant a seed, it’s really
strong.” So if you want a tree you can see, plant a sapling. If you want
a tree that can stand through wind and drought, plant a seed and wait.
I think of so many high schoolers I have taught. They rush around in AP classes, sports, and jobs. Two minutes of downtime find them on their phones, checking the social scene on facebook. Perform! Produce! Be busy! As adults it’s the same: Big house! Cool job! Successful kids! The facade of life, but where are the roots? Those come from days and years of quiet living, from homemade meals shared with a family around the table, from living well but unexcitingly, day after day after day.
I can’t believe I’m writing this. The Kori of five years ago would read this and roll her eyes. She would think, I’ve got a better chance of developing real life and roots from living in challenge and activity than from sitting at home, hiding from all life has! To that Kori I say, it’s true. Many, many people hide from the water and wind and sunshine of life, and you can’t grow without these things. But I also say, are you not hiding, too? All that activity is a mask giving the illusion of purpose. Take it off and where are you?
Roots take faith. We can’t be pulling out a tree to check on how those roots are coming along. We pour out the water and sunshine of love and faithfulness, on our children, our marriages, ourselves. We may be scorned or ignored or overshadowed, but we continue on. And we trust.
“God does not see the same way people see. People look at the outside of a person, but the LORD looks at the heart.” --1 Sam 16:7