There are trees in the Olympic Peninsula whose roots are suspended in the air — like the tree is standing on its tippy-toes. 

Some of the trees roots stretched so high that it creates a root-cave under them. I crawled into one and looked up, awed at the idea of 200 feet of trunk above my head. (I sent my kids in, whose experience was less profound.)

I learned that these trees began as seedlings that had found their homes in a decaying log. An ancient, enormous tree had fallen. As it decomposed, a seed that would not have otherwise survived made its way into the warmth and nourishment of the decay. It became what’s called a “nurse log,” and the new, growing tree’s roots grew around the big log to get to the soil. The roots grew stronger as the tree grew taller; the log grew smaller and eventually disappeared altogether.

The tree that I sat under had no more evidence of the dead log that had once been there — just an enormous, living Hemlock, itself now ancient, whose roots tell the story of the one whose death gave it life. 

Sometimes I wish we gave more space for the reality and the finality of death in our Chrisitan talk. We have so many songs and words for the life that eclipses death — “where is your sting” and “swallowed up in victory” and all that. So many platitudes that veer around death and its power. 

But there was something so holy, something so comforting about this forest full of trees that had been so thoroughly shaped by death. There was literally space for it — enough to crawl around in.

Sometimes I wish there were ways to honor the nourishment that can come from some death — when a marriage dies, when a dream dies, when the life we once had is simply over, and somehow that devastating loss allows for something new to grow. The something new wouldn’t be there if the something old had never existed, had not been significant, had not died. 

The roots of our lives, too, seem to form around the fallen trees. 

It felt like a relief to stand in the space where death had made such a mark. It felt like grace to look out from inside that still-empty space, and see life all around. 

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” And from that dust will come something new.

image from rachel_thecat – Flickr

Kate Kooyman

Kate is a minister of the Reformed Church in America who serves in the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

9 Comments

  • Daniel J Meeter says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK1UO4AggUQ, Komm Susser Tod, Come, Sweet Death.

  • Jim Payton says:

    Moving, thought-provoking … thanks for stopping and paying attention, and for letting us see this with you.

  • Carol Sybenga says:

    Being a lover of trees and having a dream die many years ago, this reflection was very meaningful to me. My loss definitely allowed for new roots to grow and branches to flourish with Gods grace. Thanks Kate.

  • Thanks for this beautiful picture from God’s creation of life, death and new life.
    The whole earth is full of God’s glory!

  • Mary VanderVennen says:

    Thanks, Kate. We so often miss the power of resurrection because we think of it as life after death. Instead, resurrection means life within death, or coming out of death. As your tree so beautifully shows.

  • John Kleinheksel says:

    Just terrific Kate. Hope your journey is going well.
    Look forward to seeing you when you get back to W. MI.
    Under separate cover, I’m sending my “Dying to Live” essay. You’ll resonate. JRK

  • This is terrific and thought provoking. I confess to wrestle with the question “Is death unnatural? Was there death in the Garden before the Fall?” Your essay suggests that there might be kinds of dying that are entirely acceptable in the Kingdom, even in the New Earth?

  • Sarina says:

    My home! The Olympic Peninsula is Middle Earth.

  • Tom Ackerman says:

    Thanks Kate. Given the intense rains in the Pacific Northwest, nurse logs and their descendants are seen quite frequently in west-slope forests. They still bring pleasure to me each time I see them given the symbolism of death and new life that you capture so beautifully. I am glad that you had a good visit to the Olympics and wish you well as you travel on.

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