Insight from a 300-year-old tree 101

I’ve been going to the woods lately because it’s a simpler, quieter place than what’s in the news. Walking helps me find grounding inside. On a recent walk, I asked for guidance and insight about what we’re facing lately.

I spent the first hour or so fuming. Expletives were uttered. Tears shed. My mind rehashed the news and egregious actions of people I disagree with. At home, in front of a screen, I focus so much on the details. Out in the woods, the big picture is much clearer.

The walk gets steep in places, demanding the walker’s full concentration and energy. Heart rate goes up with exertion, along with body temperature and deeper breathing. In the second hour, my mind got quiet and still. Calmer. I’d walked my sillies out.

At one point, I stopped to stare in wonder at the river’s path over the impenetrable basalt ledge. The ancient cedars. The cold mist rising up from the thundering cascade—a white noise so powerful it’s more vibration than sound. To think I’d been obsessed with who has all the power. No, this is power. This is strength. This is what’s enduring. Humanity is nothing compared to this river falling cold and clear.

I hiked on in wordless peace.

And that’s when the insight came. Next to the path was an ancient cedar, cut down at several hundred years old. A solid, massive stump of wood (hat for scale).

Beside it, still on the ground, the whole tree—never turned into ceiling beams or flooring or even firewood. What a waste, I thought, pained.

However, as I stopped to take in its enormity, I noticed a feathery emerald stick emerging from the fallen tree. Several of them. And I remembered: this is what ecologists call a nurse log. When a mature tree falls, seeds sprout in the bark and receive energy and nourishment to grow. As one thing dies, new life springs up from it.


And I immediately understood the relevance for my country today. Something is being cut down. It seems tragic, lamentable, painful. And yet, something beautiful is rising up from it, fueled by enduring wisdom.

It will take time, but what is passing away now will serve as nourishment for what is to come. Perhaps you can already see sprouts of new growth from courageous seeds.

101 thoughts on “Insight from a 300-year-old tree

  • Carol Foster

    Lovely analogy, I hope it’s true because it sure feels like the chopping is just beginning.

  • Susan Dooley

    That was beautiful. I too walk to clear my mind and regain perspective. I don’t have nearby access to the beauty you do, but nature and fresh air do their work on me. Thank you so much for sharing your sense of calm.

  • Suzanne

    Wonderful!! yes, a reminder of good to come from the ground swell of progressive women, especially.

  • Lakshmi Sunder.

    Thank you Jennifer . I needed this today. I am experiencing the exact same things and you have expressed my thoughts so eloquently. So thank you again. I am an empty nester and have children in the twenties. What energizes me is the little sprouts I see in all of you. You are all more enlightened than all the previous generations. So, that gives me hope.

  • Winnie Dollear

    Jennifer, a deep breathe in a quiet nature space, sky, mountain river..helps humans know how we fit in. We too are nursing or nurturing logs. I know that. I am an old log. My thoughts are connected to your own. It is time to take a breathe, all of us. The anger, the hate the disappointment, the name calling is becoming a survival tool. We must not waste the energy on on-productive emotions. Our nursing sprouts will help the younger generations. We can use our votes to talk, keep pushing for voting rights, education, equality and fair wages for all. Focus on what power we have together and change the course of 2016 election to history and begin to critically think about the candidates who will represent is. You, know they are OUR lobbies. Let us make that clear.

  • James

    I plopped down in my chair at work this morning, started my computer, scanned the new york times and again immediately felt like punching something. Then I saw your post ‘Insight from a 300-year-old tree.’ Wonderfully written. Thank you for a seed of hope and a pathway to break through all the negativity.

  • Robin Labe

    When I feel the despair and anger so many of us are experiencing, my 14 year old daughter reminds me of that which rises from what has fallen: “Look at all the good that is happening as well!” Thank you for sharing your walk and your insights — I believe that when we find our center, despite all the pain, we can do the most good.

  • Jacqui

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I so needed a voice of reason and calmness. I am so full of rage, of embarrassment for being a US citizen, and deep deep sadness, that I am making myself crazy. My brain goes over and over all of the actions, the hype, the childishness of our elected “officials” and I can only cry to relieve the pressure. I will find my hiking boots and lose myself in the woods. I hope to awaken tomorrow and find it was all a nightmare. I pray that you are right and that something good will come of all this.

  • Sara Heath

    Loved your use of the tree for your post. The woods and the trees are a sanctuary for me too. Presently am reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. There is so much to learn for most of us about the powers found in nature.

  • Sara

    Jennifer, thanks for sharing your beautiful story. I believe we will become stronger and smarter as we go through this process of resisting wrongs against humanity and the earth. There are so many good people out there. Sara

  • karin smith-spanier

    thanks for your valuable ,generous offer of good work. i am sure it is a seedling tree for many human actions of good quality. take care.xo

  • Elisabeth Mathieu

    Man, do I hope you’re right and thank you for the uplifting message. On my way in to get coffee this morning, I had a man stop me and shout “hey, where’s your smile?” I grumbled about having little to smile at these days and moved on. It’s been a dark few weeks. Thank you for helping us find ways to channel this fear and sadness into action.

  • Shannon Pickens

    Hi Jennifer,
    I don’t know how I received this email, I must of signed up at some point. Lucky me! I need this reminder to go outside and look around. Once I took a walk in the forest after my good friend’s mother died. I was walking through a redwood forest and noticed how there were circles of trees, and as I continued to look and wonder, it appeared to me that the center of the circle of trees was where a larger tree once stood. It was a beautiful moment as my senses and emotions collided.
    I am going outside now.

  • Joyce

    Thanks Jennifer. I need a walk and some exercise. I am so upset and angry. It keeps me from enjoying and accomplishing other things in my life. I have taken some political action-making calls,Womens March in DC,donating. But I see I need other activities. I am in a writing group. It starts again next Tuesday and I haven’t been able to write. Since January 20th, there has been nothing else on my mind.I feel overwhelmed ,sad and full of rage. It tires me out. It is hard to know where to go from here. Thanks for your meditations on a tree. I think I will go to the Botanic Garden near me tomorrow.

  • Carol Harada

    Dear Jennifer, This is a beautiful and important teaching. Let’s compost all our past mistakes and let more life spring up from that decay. I’ve seen great trees half-felled by storms, held in the arms of the rest of the forest. They are diagonal trees, not quite succumbing to the earth, instead continuing to host fungi and birds and squirrels and raccoons. They provide wind and flood breaks. Thank you for this reminder to get out to Nature and listen! Blessings, Carol

  • Kelly Pino

    I cannot express how comforting this post is. I will print it and hang it up for when my blood pressure gets into the stroke zone due to some fresh assault on our democracy. THANK YOU!

  • Elizabeth Emerson

    Thank you for this. It puts into beautiful words what I felt on my own walk today. The perspective found in nature restores.

  • Seeley

    Jennifer, this is such a beautiful entry. Thank you so much. I’ve been craving to be outside surrounded by nature, but my kid commitments have prevented me from this. Your post was a BEAUTIFUL reminder of the power and lessons in nature. I suspect this will be very helpful to read today for many of your subscribers, consider what we’re all living right now. Thank you for your ability to tap into the magic and for your courage to share it.

  • Sandra B Hoover

    Echoing the ‘thank yous’ from others; your words help.The solace of wildness is not available for all, but we can tap the reserves in our soul when reading reminders like yours, or writings of others who treasure being surrounded by nature.

  • marilyn giles

    jennifer – this is a beautiful and inspiring piece. Yes, nature can teach us many things and we need to be able to stop, look, and listen. There certainly is something that is growing out of all of this craziness.. there is HOPE
    Thanks you for sharing your walk with us.

  • Susan Hansen

    Thank you Jennifer for your insightful observations. It was comforting to think in those terms for the inner and outer turmoils that we are experiencing in these uncertain times.

  • Catherine Burnett

    Lovely thoughts, Jennifer. I have to admit that when I’m feeling sheer despair over the current political climate, (i.e. Elizabeth Warren being ‘silenced’ by Mitch McConnell last night at Sessions senate confirmation hearing) seeing the snow-covered Olympic range outside my windows grounds me. I’m so thankful that you’re on the planet. <3

  • Kate

    Great post. I also walk and hike in the woods for self care including mental clarity (and then write about it, all such great outlets!). It’s true, the big picture is much more clear in nature. We have to take care of ourselves so we can keeping fighting for our country. Thanks for this post and your weekly action google docs, they (and you) are fabulous.

  • Laura Davis

    Beautiful piece, Jen. It’s nice to hear your personal voice…and not just the curator of so many good things on Sunday. I’ve been walking in the woods a lot too–wearing my big rubber boots and sloshing around in the mud and rain. Hanging around my favorite huge live oak tree. It’s been a comfort to me as well.

  • Shari

    Bravo! Exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you for being so clear and on point. I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster of despair, then hope when I see what I think are signs of an awakened populace. I really do hope there are baby trees everywhere and I’m doing my best to be one and water others. Where do you live?

  • Suzanne Anderson

    Thank you Jennifer. This is one of the most beautiful verbalizations of the process many of us are going through. You have reinspired me to lift my eyes to the potential and focus on beautiful births, and new beginnings.

  • lee

    Thank you for this. You echo my similar turmoil and need for quiet. I love the nurse log–something I was not familiar with. How apt. And helpful for my own soul & spirit to contemplate.

  • Heidi

    Last night, in bed, 3 am, my anger and sadness overwhelmed me. The hypocrisy, the destruction, the lack of empathy, the injustice, the greed, the daily flood of executive actions undoing the efforts to protect earth, water, air, animals, and humans is overwhelming. Heart pounding, I woke my husband and said, “I think maybe I need a prescription for some tranquilizers.” He said, “Let me be your tranquilizer” and he proceeded to talk me through big picture. His message was not unlike your hiking experience.

    Destructive-information-overload impairs our ability to see through the darkness. You are right, the shoots are among the decay. Let us recognize them so we can shine light there. Reflection on the good that exists gives us the strength to hope and the ability to envision a better world.

    After my husband talked to me and he had fallen asleep, I meditated on my memory of nature so that I could rest and have the energy to face today. For us to continue to make a positive difference we will have to repeatedly pull ourselves out of the sea of shit and put on our hiking boots. It helps to remember that we are not alone. Thank you for taking us with you, on your hike, with your words. It solidified what I know in my heart.

    Though I recognize the darkness and the danger we are in I also recognize the light and possibility for transformation. I am fortunate to live in Portland with many like minded people and to have discovered your blog. If you decide to meet with other Portlanders, in person, please count me in.

  • Laurel

    Thank you for sharing your reflection on power, life, nourishment, and hope. Nature is such a teacher if we’ll slow down and pay attention. You’ve helped me balance my own anger and impatience at the part of our world I’ve been noticing with everything else that endures.

  • Sandy

    That is a beautiful analogy, and I do have hope that our young people are waking up and realizing what is at stake for our democracy. I’ll never feel the same when I come across an old stump or log, and there are lots in the woods around here. Hope is alive!

  • brandon bitrich

    that was a really cool article jennifer im really fascinated by tress and wildlife these blog posts bring alot of joy to my day thank you for posting them hope your having a good week 🙂

  • Lucy Hull

    Thank you so much, Jen, from the other coast. The work you do, and your weekly action checklists are much appreciated, as are your reminders to do self-care before and after our resistance work. My daily walks are essential for my own well-being and for perspective. This post is especially nice, and I too feel hopeful that our hard work will bring new growth.
    This is such an interesting time we live in. Today, listening to Bernie pick up reading Coretta Scott King’s letter after Elizabeth Warren was censured, I felt in a new way how unusual all of this really is. It seems that luminaries on the left are now truly finding their feet. See Robert Reich’s nightly chats, too. They’re also giving me solace. Things are anything but normal, and it’s all moving amazingly quickly.
    With gratitude to you,

  • Mary Amoe

    Thank you for calming my soul and reassuring me that Mother Nature has a purpose for all that happens around us. We just need to take time to look around us and understand “the purpose”!

  • Gratefull

    Yes, yes, yes, I live near some redwoods and there is no better way to reconnect with the world than to take a stroll. I also think the act of walking is therapeutic and I have always found relief from my troubles when I surround myself with mother nature. So many lessons can be found in the woods if you are willing to take the time to learn them.

  • amy bartucci

    Hi jen(nifer)! I relate to your story. I actually felt a bit of strength immediately following the election results. it seems like a miracle in a way to find ANY thread of hope or strength, but like you, I try to keep seeking the common ground of working together and working for the land that we all want to keep calling our home. thanks for your words today! I feel hope here and there and that is good!

  • Joan Alley

    Thanks Jen for sharing your insight . It is similar to things I have come to think, but expressed far more eloquently.
    Thank you also for you informative and helpful suggestions. Joan A

  • Leslie Duling

    Thank you so much for this, Jennifer. This is a really good reminder to tune in to the bigger picture- something I am really needing in my life as well. It is so easy to get caught up in the frustrating details and forget about the beauty and wisdom of nature. Finding a way to balance the rage and discomfort in such uncertain times is so necessary. Sending you hugs and healing!

  • Bobbi Wheatley

    Your words of hope are an inspiration, offering hope and resolve to work through this crisis with resilience and courage. Thank you for sharing your amazing walk in the woods.

  • Catherine Woods

    Yes, I can see the new sprouts. Yes, it could be a long process. Yes, at 66, I’m happy to use my energies for the sake of my grandchildren, and frankly for all who follow, as food for what’s emerging. Thank you for your Action Lists, which help me take part, and thanks for sharing your insight.

  • Diane Daws

    This was very very comforting for me today.
    I had that anger built up inside me today because of actions from someone I disagreed with.
    This was such a meditating message.

    Thank you!

  • Jeanette Walowitz

    Powerful and beautiful! I’m lying here shut in by a massive snowstorm this morning. Signing petitions, thinking, mulling over all the seemingly futile actions I will take to save the country from malice and greed. But I’ve lived long enough to witness these miraculous transformations, from the dreaded Nixon Era and anti war, civil war like fighting in the streets through Reagan’s Iran-contra weapons deal and Bush’s Iraqi disaster to the prosperity and hope of the Clinton and Obama years.
    It will happen again, but we’ve got to not walk away from the back breaking work of cultivating those tiny yet brilliant seeds of change.

  • Amy

    Such a powerful analogy for what’s going on. I completely agree. What’s going on today is just feeding the resistance and we will overcome as we unite against the things that don’t make sense. You’ve inspired me to take some quiet time to site on my porch and look out in to the green. Thank you so much.

  • Brita Bonechi

    If anything will be able to save the earth from the human onslaught, it will be trees. I always recommend friends to donate to The National Arbor Day Foundation. They grow trees.they plant trees in national forests, and they educate.

  • Sarah Schroeder

    Loved your insight. Just what I needed to hear today. I too am aghast and ashamed of our political climate. Nature is our most curative. I will also enter this wild and wise world for comfort.

  • Linda Warshaw

    Thank you for both your wisdom and eloquence. Your observation of this phenomenon in nature is an inspiration to me.

  • Sue Kelley Hudson

    Thank you for sharing your inspiration, Jennifer. I’ve been feeling the same way and stewing about how hopeless the political picture seems to be for anyone with a progressive leaning. Your encouragement is very timely. There are maybe a dozen progressives brave enough to make it known in the small community where I live in Wisconsin; but I want to organize and use your lists as references. Many of us are employed and time is precious, but so are the issues. I truly appreciate your thoughtful guidance and tree insights.

  • Nancy greenspan

    Recently I heard about a chestnut tree that fell years ago in a virgin forest. Near the site were no other chestnuts, yet seedling trees were growing. When this was investigated, there was an underground network that was giving energy to dead roots. While this was a virgin forest and we are not a virgin democracy, perhaps such energy has now been unleashed to bring us back.

  • Susan Borg

    Thanks, Jennifer. I need to be reminded that this may not be simply a catastrophe, but might be a phoenix.

  • Douglas Fisher

    I own 55 acres of forest, and frequently walk and work in it. The process of growth, and regrowth, is abundantly evident–and quite glorious. However, there are limits. Many of the forests in the world are gone; climate change is here. That said, one has to look at and believe in both sides, maintaining a balance–that’s life.

  • Ana

    You know what, Jen? A few times since the resistance began, it has occurred to me that what is happening today might, just might, be the last push before women finally gain true equality and power in this country. As they say, the resistance is female. The future is female. The strong push we are witnessing from the mostly-male administration (and male majority still running this country) is their last fight before their age ends. Thinking of it this way has fueled my drive to fight harder, longer. Your post seems to echo my feeling because in the midst of so many negative news, it seems like we, the women, are sprouting up with a renewed purpose. I hope we keep our strength and our purpose. Thank you for your post.

  • Marya

    Thanks Jen for your insights and encouraging perspective. Sometimes we need something terrible to incite out me action!

    Thank you as well for your amazing action email.

  • Ginny Davis

    Thank you so much, Jen–you are a wise old soul. Your words really fed me today. I’ve been having serious physical challenges and have to really prioritize what little I can do. Your list gives me plenty of choices along with the information to act and make me feel I’m making some contribution. So glad to be able to do SOMETHING, and to come across your healing words just when I need them.

  • Jeanie Johnson

    Thank you so much for this! I admit to a serious despair and painful dreams. A dear friend suggested your site. Your blog is a balm! Our for a long walk by the lakes will be where my feet take this concern. And I’ll carry your thoughts with me. Thanks again

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