Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Life Lessons From A Dogwood Tree

There is a flowering dogwood that stands close to the house that has been  both a delight and disappointment to me.  I was very excited at the prospect of seeing it come to life that first spring my husband, son and I moved into this home. Unfortunately,  the tree never bloomed to full capacity and in fact, never really has done so. Perhaps the limited sun exposure may be a factor. It grows in that slightly off balance, crooked way trees have when they are passionately trying to find and follow the light. It gets an abundance of early morning light, but as the day progresses and the shade marches outward from the house, you can sense each branch straining to catch every last bit of sunlight before it becomes a fading memory.

When the blooms eventually do come to burst open, they are amazing pink wonders of pure joy, and I find myself longing to see more of them but realize this may simply never happen.

Photo from

Sadly, last winter was one of the toughest on record for much of the Northeast, and living in New England as we do, ours was a doozy. We had so much ice and snow piled on the roof that we feared water entering the home. As a result, we hired a company to remove it all. In so doing they used long handled roof rakes to clear the snow and traditional hammers to break up the ice that in most places was over 10 inches thick and at least 2 feet high on the roof line. Crazy! They literally dumped all this accumulated winter off of the roof, over the side of the house onto the ground, deck and driveway. I was unaware of the damage that had been done to this precious dogwood of mine until after they had left. There were so many broken branches and fresh tears and cuts all over this tree that I truly felt it was never going to make it back from the shock. I sadly gathered up all the broken and severed tree limbs, tossing them over the side yard in order to remove them from my sight in the hope that this very act might enable the tree to recover.

When spring came, the tree, which is late bloomer anyway, looked positively dead. I was heartbroken and since the winter had taken its toll on me I felt my spirits plummet at the additional picture of sadness that this dogwood tree represented to me. It came to represent all that I felt in the last years as I struggled to find myself adrift and searching for meaning. I felt like a kindred spirit to that tree, aching to feel every last bit of sunshine on my face as I too attempted to grow beyond the constraints of my own life.

I had all but given up the tree for dead when by June it still looked every bit a goner. I despondently made plans in my head about what to put in its place, but had trouble as this tree had come to mean more to me then I could ever possibly imagine. Then a funny, wonderful thing happened, slowly, very slowly tiny leaves started to sprout on this tree sometime around the end of June. I was cautiously optimistic at this point and thought perhaps the tree was giving out one last effort to come back to life before all the energy left inside it was used up. A few very bedraggled and forlorn looking flowers popped out afterward, and  I thought to myself, this is it, the tree is saying goodbye. I decided at that point that I would just let the tree takes its own natural course and leave it alone. We left for a vacation on Nantucket Island soon after this and were gone for close to month.

When we returned I was moved beyond words to discover the dogwood had grown in leaps and bounds while we were away. There were so many branches and leaves that were growing so abundantly and the tree looked as though it had grown over a foot or more in our absence.

This dogwood tree suddenly became for me a solid and tangible representation of my own life. I too have felt slightly off kilter and out of place in New England and often find my sun loving nature staying outside long after dusk in an attempt to catch every last little bit of daylight. I was beaten and blue by the end of last winter and felt that the snow and ice had taken its toll on me too. I suffered terrible insomnia and battled the blues as result, which came from my desperation for winter to end and my endless craving for the smell and feel of spring to emerge. I went to Nantucket feeling exhausted and beaten by life from my severe perimenopausal symptoms of insomnia, depression and anxiety, which are all also symptomatic of my under producing thyroid as well.

A funny and wonderful thing happened to me too this past summer. The bright rays of summer sunshine, the love of my son, the comfort of my husband, the healing power of the ocean and my own inner resolve to not let life beat me down, or my own body get the better of me took over my senses. I healed in ways that were so good for my body, mind and spirit and when I returned home to see that dogwood come back to life in such  a glorious way I felt more connected to that tree then ever before. That dogwood became for me a symbol of all that I had come through in my life and that spoke to my heart in way that nothing else ever could.

Recently, we had a surprise snow storm that rocked New England into becomming the unwanted recipient of over 18 inches of some of the heaviest, wettest snow imaginable! Halloween was indeed cancelled much to the dismay of children everywhere who now had to wait another week to don those costumes and go foraging for candy!

Once again my dogwood is wounded from the weight and sheer volume of the snow that fell. Two huge fresh gashes adorn the location where two of its tallest limbs once were attached. And I felt my breath catch as I tossed those two severed branches over the side of our property yet again. But there was a slight difference to this act now, because I sensed that this scrappy, tough dogwood who refused to let life get in the way, would do whatever it took to come back again. And that is life lesson worth remembering!

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