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The parable of the crooked tree

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By GEORGE ROBERTSON, M.D.

Years ago on a fence row in Wilson County a small seedling began to grow reaching for the life-giving rays of the sun. Its path was not a simple or straightforward one because of the overhanging branches of the plants which by favor of fortune had been cast there when competition was not so demanding.

The darkness overhead cast by their overhanging branches prompted the seedling to seek an alternative path to the light, something that was foreign to most plants. Instead of growing upward away from the Earth’s gravity, the little seedling sensed the warmth of the sun from the southeast side of the dense growth of trees and vines on the now overgrown site.

In a few months, Mr. Huddleston being the good farmer that he was, realized that the extra growth in the fence was shading out to pasture on the north side of the spot so he began to top the bushes and vines, cropping them back and allowing the sunlight to hit directly down on the little sapling.

Sensing its good fortune, the plant turned once again toward the heavenly illumination and started its growth upward again adding girth to its trunk in the process.

But like life and all good things, the conditions for growth once again became overshadowed by the competition. In the tree’s case, it was the faster growing vines and limbs of the hardwoods above that made it once again seek light from a different direction and in this instance one that was most unusual for a tree. The majority of the light reaching the tender growing shoot came from beneath the fence row. Now the tree did something unusual for a tree and for any living plant, it began to grow downward, groping for the one element it needed to survive, the chlorophyll stimulus of sunlight.

For many months the sapling was in this strange predicament, feeling the urge to grow up but sensing the rays from below. In spite of this upside down dichotomy of factors, it continued to do what it did best and added length and width to its frame.

Next year once again, Mr. Huddleston saw the shade from the fence row creeping across the grass pasture and realized it was best for his cows to allow more light on this field. He cut the overhang back narrowly missing the little shoot now growing peculiarly toward the ground. The surrounding vines could not tolerate this severe pruning and died giving our resilient sapling light from overhead.

By this time its trunk was so thick that it could not turn immediately toward the desirable conditions coming straight down upon it but nevertheless began its slow growth this time stretching to the northwest away from the big oak tree to its south and was able to get above the fence and the bushes which had kept it at bay and could devote its full energy to a more satisfying position straight up and out into the full strength of the sun.

That is the way you can see it today on Cedar Grove Road growing on the north side of the Huddleston farm. Charles Huddleston, the son of the original farmer, saw the unusual tree as he cut back all the others and moved the fence several fee back from the now asphalt-covered thoroughfare. In its battle for life, the tree had developed a large gash in its bark which allowed rot to begin to chew away at the sinuous curve in its last growth. Charles worked diligently on this tarnish to the unusual tree filling the hollow place in it with several hundred pounds of concrete to keep out the rain and save it from decay.

After hearing about the strange corkscrew tree growing in a circular route for more than 30 years, what are the lessons we can draw from nature and from man’s response to it? Persistence, resilience, notice of the unusual and reward for it, are a few of the things we think about when we think about the tree. Perhaps there are many others you can come up with. Please let me know about them.

Editor’s Note: George Robertson is a physician with Family Medical Associates, PC, in Lebanon.

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