The Leaning Tree

Many years ago, a man and a woman met at a church in the South for a very special occasion. It was an event that involved food, as most social gatherings do, as well as music and dancing and whispers and shouts and narrow glasses and wrapped presents. The man and woman then left that special occasion to go to their very own special place, which eventually resulted in their getting a very special package several months later. As any of you know who have been around for more years than you have fingers and toes, truly special things lead to more special things—just as good fun leads to better fun, holy things lead to holier things, and deep things lead to deeper things. This very special package they named Angela, and she was full of life and song and trust.

Angela loved the small farm where she grew up with 4 cats, 2 dogs, a horse, 3 cows, and some pigs and chickens. It is not possible to list the specific numbers of pigs and chickens because the quantity changed a bit too often, depending on the time of year. This was something that distressed Angela, for she had a heart of gold and loved all the animals on the farm. If she did have one fault, it was a lack of practicality in certain things; however, considering her age, she cannot be blamed for that.

Near the border of this particular farm was a very peaceful yet lively stream. Angela would often go sit under the large oak tree on the bank and watch it flow by with gurgles and sputters and softly whispered secret messages. As you can guess, Angela had a bit of an imagination, and she would think about where the water was headed and all the plans it had in store for all the places it was going. Most people would not recognize that a stream had plans, but in this respect, she was wise beyond her years.

Although this stream was a very nice stream for wading and floating small boats and watching small fish and dreaming very nice dreams during the day, it was not completely tame. Every Spring, the weather would get windy and rainy for three or four weeks, and the stream got very upset at its regular schedule being broken. Then it would get bigger and faster and louder and pull out branches and stones on the bank. However, you can’t really blame the stream for getting upset once a year at such inconsiderate weather, so Angela quickly forgave the momentary moodiness—until the year Angela turned 22.

This one specific year, the weather had been extremely bad. Now, as you remember, good things often lead to very good things; however, the reverse is also true: bad things often lead to more bad things. In this specific instance, the bad weather led to many bad things, not the least of which left Angela and her uncle in charge of the farm. Although that was a very big thing, it does not play into this story very much. The bad thing this story is about has to do with the stream. You see, it seems that the stream got fed up with the weather ruining its schedule year after year, and got angrier than it had ever been in as long as anyone could remember. It got so angry that it tore up a big chunk of the bank along the farm.

It was shortly after one of the big storms that Angela had walked down to sit by the stream. Her heart was a bit troubled, and she knew it would help her get settled inside. She fully knew the stream might still be a bit angry, for it often took a couple weeks for it to settle back down, but she needed to sit and listen to its plans—even if they were louder than usual. However, all of her plans were suddenly changed when she got near the great oak tree by the stream. You see, the stream had gotten so angry the night before that it even pulled out the bank by the tree where Angela would often sit and listen and dream. Now, the bank right up to the tree was washed out for at least 3 feet so that a third of the roots to the great oak tree were sticking above the ground.

Angela was horrified when she saw the tree roots exposed. Now, you might wonder about this because although she liked to sit under the tree, the very reason she would sit under the tree was to listen to the stream. At this point, she was so distraught over the state of the tree that she completely forgot about the stream. (Considering everything that had happened recently, her temporary distraction was totally understandable). She immediately ran back to the house to get her uncle to come see the tree.

Now, something must be said about Angela’s uncle Eddy. Eddy was a very pragmatic and practical sort. He knew a great deal about many things, but Angela often found him very exasperating. When she would tell him some of the things she heard from the stream, he would say things like, “you can’t know where it’s going til you know where it’s been,” or “it’s only being what it is,” or “what we really need to know is it makes things wet.” To be honest, Angela had begun to think that Eddy was a bit tired of life and slow in the head. However, she completely wanted something pragmatic and practical at this point to fix the bank between the tree and the stream, so she brought Eddy back to see what had happened.

When they got to the bank, Angela paced and pointed and talked loudly for a good twenty minutes, all while Eddy stood and looked at the tree with its roots sticking out of the ground and the stream rushing by very quickly and very loudly. Finally, after expressing her frustration very clearly several times, Angela asked what they could do to fix the tree. After another minute of silence, Eddy gave a response that caused her to simply stare at him with an open mouth: “leave it alone.” She was shocked. How could she not do something? “If we don’t do something, it will fall over and die!” she exclaimed. “Yes, that is a possibility,” he said, “but the tree is part of nature, and nature has to decide. Anything we do will only make things worse.” Of course, Angela was not satisfied with that answer, so Eddy walked back to the house, leaving her to stare at the tree.

Over the next several weeks, Angela tried everything she knew to fix the tree. She bought a truckload of dirt to try and rebuild the bank, but the stream simply washed it away. She tried to divert the stream further away from the tree, but the dirt became dry and blew away. She put rocks around the new dirt to protect it from the wind, but it became muddy and started to grow a fungus. She made phone calls and had landscapers and arborists come out to see the situation, but they all kept saying the same thing: she should just leave it alone. To her benefit, Angela finally decided to do that when something even worse happened. She had walked back out to see how the tree was getting along when she suddenly noticed that the tree had started to lean, ever so slightly, toward the stream. Instantly, she realized what was happening—the tree was going to fall into the river! She completely forgot about her decision to leave it alone as she ran back to the house. She had to do something!

Over the next few weeks, Angela made more phone calls than ever before, trying to do something. However, nothing she did ever worked. She tried getting a huge pole to stick in the stream and put against the tree to prop it up from leaning any further toward the stream; however, the pole began to cut into the tree. She planted a pole on the other side and tied the tree to it to hold it up, but the rope cut through the bark. She wrapped sheets to keep the rope from cutting into the bark, but the bark began to grow mold where the sheets were located. It seemed that everything she did to fix things only made the situation worse. On top of all that, the tree continued to lean toward the stream, bit by bit.

During this whole time, Eddy tried to explain things to Angela, but she just became more exasperated with him. Finally, there was a single day when she had called the last person she knew to call and was told the same thing: there is nothing anyone could do beyond just leaving it alone. She was so distraught that she sat down and cried. Now Eddy, being a very pragmatic and practical sort, knew better than to say anything at that moment. Instead, he got up and went for a walk. After a few more minutes, when she had finished her cry, Angela noticed he was gone. She got up and looked around for him, but could not find him. Suddenly, it occurred to her that he might be at the tree. She didn’t think so because he hadn’t gone back since that first day she brought him there, but she decided to go to the tree to check.

Sure enough, she found him standing on the bank and looking at the tree. He was looking at the stones and the poles and the dirt and the ropes, but he never said a word. Instead, he simply stood and waited. She explained all the things she tried and how every one had failed and things had only gotten worse. She talked and pointed and paced for at least half an hour until there was nothing left to say and they were both standing quietly and looking. Then, very quietly, Eddy said, “leave it alone.” Finally, Angela realized that she was going to have to do that even if only because there was nothing left she could do but trust that nature would decide. She and Eddy slowly walked back to the house.

Angela did not go back to the stream for the rest of the year. Instead, she was busy with trying to take care of all the farm things that needed to be done. It never occurred to her how much work was on the farm before because although she was getting it done, she hadn’t focused on it. Now she worked from morning to night, thinking only of what she had to do. She slowly forgot about the dead tree and about the childish dreams. She forgot, that is, until next Spring on the anniversary when she took over the farm. That morning, she could not get into work, so she decided to go for a walk. She did not realize where she was going until she found herself by the stream. There, to her great surprise, was the great oak tree, still standing but leaning out over the stream like a giant umbrella. Beneath the tree, a pool had formed with ducks and fish. It seemed that although the tree had leaned out over the stream, the roots went deeper and stronger to make it stable. It suddenly brought new life where the old bank had been! She had left the tree alone after trying to fix it herself, and nature had fixed it without her help.

It was at that point that the most amazing thing happened: she heard the stream again. It suddenly dawned on her that this whole time, she had gotten focused on the tree when the tree wasn’t what she cared about at all. The tree was just where she would sit to watch the stream and listen to its stories and dream about its plans. Somehow, she got so focused on the tree that she missed what had been there all the time—the stream. The stream had adjusted the tree to create the pool and bring new life! Now she understood what Eddy was trying to tell her: she had to let go and trust nature to be what it was. Every time she had tried to do something on her own, she was getting in the way of nature doing the very thing she loved most. In awe, she sat down on the grass in the tree’s shade where she could hear the stream and watch the fish in the pool. The stream really did have a plan after all.