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Oregon Family Magazine

Tree Time

10/01/2018 15:15 ● By Sandy Kauten
The incense cedar tree was literally holding on for dear life. Growing at the bottom of the waterfall, small waves rhythmically lapped at its trunk, eroding away what little soil remained beneath its feet.  But the tree had this arm – a root, actually, but like an arm with a long skinny hand and a tangle of slender fingers.  The tree reached up the hillside beside the pool with its root-arm, along the length of a crumbling nurse log. At the top of the rise, fingertips set deep in soil, the cedar held fast to solid ground. This tree wasn’t going anywhere.

There is so much children (and adults!) can learn about resilience from our green growing neighbors – the trees. Life isn’t always easy, but if you can recover quickly, it’s not so hard to take on the next day’s challenges. The cedar’s lesson – don’t give up and hold on tight – is just the beginning of what trees can teach.

If we could peer into the darkness of the earth below, where most trees actually do take root, we would discover an amazing system of caretaking at work. Current research about what’s happening beneath our feet suggests that individual trees share everything from water to essential nutrients with their neighbors – all through a complex network of hair-like tree root tips and microscopic fungi. If you want to live a happy and healthy life, the trees would tell us, make more connections.

Even though most of us won’t ever dig in quite so deep with tree roots, there is plenty to learn from the greenery above ground. Trees everywhere constantly whisper wisely as their leaves flutter in the breeze – look for light in the darkness.  If someone in your family is having a hard day, take a walk down a shadowy forest trail where bigleaf maples grow. Gaze up and you’ll see their moss-blanketed boughs stretching in all sorts of crazy directions, reaching with great determination toward windows of light in the canopy above.  When their enormous five-lobed leaves (the largest of any species of maple) break free of the shadows, they turn full on towards the sun. There is always light to be found – they seem to shine happily, huge light-loving hands, glowing green from your vantage point below.

If your family is facing a set of challenging changes, try walking near a river, where riparian trees have other wisdom to share – don’t be too rigid. Watch as willow boughs go with the flow, especially in times of high water, bending and swaying without breaking as the river rises and falls. And if you wait until winter to go tree watching, snow-covered Douglas fir boughs will echo these sentiments. Be flexible, they will say as cold snow falls heavily from the sky and their branches droop toward the ground. Just relax and when the sun comes out again, as it always will, the weight you carry will fall away.

Regardless of whether or not you’re having a bad day, our tall green neighbors always have something interesting to share. Take a walk in the woods today. What other lessons can you and your family learn from the trees?

For some October fun learning from critters in the woods, join Nearby Nature at the Haunted Hike on Saturday, October 20!  At this event, folks will go on a walk in the Alton Baker Park woods and encounter all sorts of night creatures in costume, from a gigantic bat to a sneaky spider to a friendly tree frog. Pre-registration is required – see or this month’s calendar for details.

Beth Stein is the Executive Director of Nearby Nature, a non-profit education group dedicated to fostering appreciation of nature nearby and providing tools for ecological living. The group hosts summer daycamps in local parks as well as school programs, special events, and restoration projects. For more information, call 541-687-9699 or see