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.