For centuries the giant stood on the banks of the beautiful Kanawha River at Glen Ferris and watched over the villages that sprouted up along the water. It laughed silently along with the children who played beneath it’s branches. It glowed along with the young lovers that swooned and stole kisses in the park. It kept the secrets that were whispered in it’s presence. It held the hearts that were engraved in it’s bark. The giant old tree loved the presence of the people so much that it grew a bench from it’s roots in hopes that the villagers would come and share the stories of lands beyond the mountain tops. But all things must change eventually. One day the skies grew angry and poured their rage into the river and even a giant couldn’t withstand the torrent. The giant fell with a thunderous crash. And yet, when we look closely at the stump we can see hope rising again. A single twig still continues to stretch out towards the sun. And love lives again. It’s said that strong roots gives us the strength to survive but it takes more than strong roots to rise again. It takes determination and love.
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Standing like a silent becon the ancient tree rises up to touch the sky. When I was a child this hilltop was pasture land. I can remember seeing the cattle gathered under it’s branches to shelter from the sun or the short summer rain shower. At other times dense blocks of hay formed a dotted line that followed the contour of the landscape. These big old trees have always been a draw for my eyes and even today one the lower branches seems to be waving hello. I imagine that the tree is inviting us to come and sit beneath it’s branches and enjoy the soft breeze as we listen for the voice of God. We climb to top of the hill and sit in cool grass. Close your eyes for a moment and lift your face to feel the warm rays of the sun. Can you hear it? That still small voice speaking peace to your soul?
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I’ve said it before about how much I love twisted and crooked, gnarly trees. The curls sweeps of the wood speak of challenges that were overcome to survive. I’m not sure what caused the arabesque in the trunk of this one but the moment I saw the double curve I fell in love with the tree. No doubt that it had to have carried the weight of at least one or maybe two larger trees as it grew. I also have no doubt that it’s unique shape prevented it from being harvested at some point in its history.
Sometimes God allows us to go through struggles that we don’t understand. We might wonder how much longer a situation will last. We might think that the burden we carry will pull us down. But if we just keep going and we don’t give up we can make it. Sure, there’s going to be scars and we may not stand as tall as some of our contemporaries. But, that doesn’t make us any less beautiful. It makes us overcomers and it makes us unique.
As I looked around at the surrounding forest there were hundreds of trees that were straight and tall. Some of trunks were so thick that you and your best friend couldn’t reach all the way around them by joining hands. But they all faded into the background. The only one that stood out and begged to be photographed was the one who was unique. One day this tree will fall just like the rest of them. As a woodworker I can imagine some bent wood furniture being made from crooked trunk. If it ever happens it will be a centerpiece in someone’s home where the others couldn’t compete with the graceful curves produced by overcoming the struggle. Don’t ever give up. Bend and adapt to overcome and you’ll grow into something special.
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The darkened sky hangs ominously overhead as a chilled wind races across the ridges. I can already smell the rain in the damp air. I quicken my pace as the first few drops begin to change the color of the pavement. The old gnarly sweet gum tree seems to reach out to offer shelter for those who pass by it’s grounds. It has stood here on this windy ridge for hundreds of years and witnessed the passing of many generations. There was a time when it was not so tall and strong. A time when the Shawnee hunting parties passed silently by in moccasins. Then came the lumberjacks with axes and saws. But the gum tree was too twisted and crooked for their needs. Then came the farmers whose cattle rested under its boughs. Finally, a workman came with transits and plumbs and cement. With the skills of an architect and the heart of a poet. He fell in love with the knots and twists in the wood. This ancient and weathered tree would be a centerpiece of his creation in the park. As the people came and admired the old tree it felt a new sense of purpose and loved them back. Today it stands on the rim of the New River Gorge and welcomes all who pass down the trail. Including a photographer who sheltered from the rain a few days ago and imagined it’s story. In your travels through the heart of West Virginia take a few minutes to view and enjoy the New River Gorge Bridge at the little park just outside of Fayetteville and stretch your legs under the friendly old sweet gum tree in the park.
I love big old ancient trees. The older the better. In ancient times, big old trees were thought to be magical entities that stood between heaven and earth. They guarded the secrets of the universe. Trees also represent a shelter for weary travelers. The give us food and medicine. I believe that the tree in the feature image is a Red Elm tree. Also known as the Slippery Elm, the inner bark yields a mucilaginous substance that is used to treat respiratory ailments. The tea made from the inner bark has a sweet spicy flavor that’s pleasant enough to enjoy just for relaxing. Don’t drink too much because it’s also a laxative.
I’m really surprised that this one is still around. Sadly, the Elm population was nearly destroyed by Dutch Elm Disease. In the spring the government hangs purple boxes in the trees that attracts the beetles responsible for the spread of fungus. The beetle traps seem to be working well so hopefully we’ll have these awesome trees around for generations of travelers to shelter under or collect medicine from.