Today I walked in a different direction than my usual path. Most mornings I choose to go through the forest area as it offers more bird and wildflower varieties. It’s shaded in midsummer which makes it cooler. The alternative path has some forest but also fields and pasture. It’s more open to catching the summer breezes.
I noticed something about my walking pattern. I always look to the right as I’m walking unless something startles me, or I catch a glimpse of color out of the corner of my left eye. This means that if I only walk in one direction, I miss half of what there is to see! But because I usually walk the same trail up and back, I find treasures on every side. I wonder if this tendency to look right is because I’m right-handed. If one of you reading this knows the answer, let me know.
This past winter, when the tree silhouettes were obvious, I noticed the preponderance of vines winding their way up the tree trunks. What struck me was how the shape of young trees had already become permanently altered by the vines that wrapped themselves around them. Vines usually start at the base of a tree or the surrounding area. Their grip on a tree can cause girdling which robs the tree of its ability to transport water and also sugar from the leaves to the roots to keep it healthy. There is a narrow band of living tissue just underneath the bark of trees. That layer carries most of the load for transporting sugars that the leaves produce down to the roots of the tree. Vines that interfere with this layer deform and damage the tree. Some vines also become so invasive they deprive the leaves of sunlight needed for photosynthesis.
Where I walk, there are honeysuckle, bittersweet and cat’s claw vines that damage the smaller saplings. I love the floral scent of honeysuckle floating in the air of early summer. And I love the orange fruit of the bittersweet. But bittersweet is invasive and also very difficult to eradicate because of its underground runners. I pondered the adjustments going on inside the tree’s circulatory system to adapt to these strangleholds. Like so many things that may be enjoyable, they’re not necessarily good.
The larger trees are often clad with the shaggy brown vines that we called monkey vines as kids. These were sometimes thick enough for us to climb up or swing on. It was especially wonderful if we found one strung between two trees as we could hang by our legs and do acrobatics. I’m sure they are destructive to the trees, but children don’t worry about such things.
Equally menacing, are the poison ivy vines that infiltrate the bark and climb up the trees then leaf out and bear fruit higher up the tree trunk. Once established, these must be cut or sawed so they can later be pulled away without damaging the bark. They don’t look terribly menacing when they’re younger, but on older trees the vine can be several inches in diameter. I’ve even found vines that have moss and lichens growing on them because they’ve been on the tree so long.
Trees can’t choose where they put down their roots and grow, but we can. We need to be vigilant about what we allow to take root and grow up around us. The recent pandemic has given everyone an opportunity to reassess their lives. Many are realizing that what they thought they truly needed wasn’t what sustained them, or even essential to their lives. In many cases, new habits and outlooks have created a healthier life and family. It’s a good reminder to cultivate healthy physical environments as well as carefully choosing the people with whom we want to invest our lives long term. Best to fill our social circles with people who help us thrive and bloom where we are planted.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:8 NIV