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The Hollowed Out Tree

January 25, 2017


It has finally stopped raining.


I’m usually not too bothered by the rain- I understand and embrace the benefits, sometimes look forward to the excuse it gives me to stop, sit down on the couch and slowly sip cups of hot steaming tea. But the rain we have had over the last couple of days has made me feel cooped up and anxious, moody and in a state of angst. There’s an energy in the air that is leaving most people feeling that way these days, I would imagine, but enough.  I just want to get out. I need, if only for a few fleeting moments, to feel free.


So grateful, I was this morning, to see the sun peeking out of the thick overcast sky. I laced up my running shoes, and took off, grateful that the only thing I had to think about for the next 45 minutes was breathing in and breathing out.


I ran my usual route; through the trees, up the hill, onto a quiet back street. I was thankful to see my half way point in the near distance, and as I dragged in long strains of cold air, I made a U-turn and started back around. For many reasons, this is my favorite part of the path, not only because I’m half way done, but mainly because I am running next to a wooded area that is teaming with wildlife and vegetation, even in the middle of winter, and if I can get my breathing really quiet, I can hear the trickle of a small creek, just a few yards down into the leveled bottom of the woods. Most soothing to my soul is the sound of a running stream.


I’ve run and walked this path hundreds of times; it’s familiar, comforting somehow. I’ve pushed my kids to sleep in the middle of frustrating afternoons next to these woods, I’ve memorized every tree, every leaf, each thicket, or so I thought, until this morning, as I was trying to motivate myself to keep moving, I noticed for the first time, a tall and very weathered looking hollowed out old tree. It was stately, despite having lost all of its branches, it looked ancient, as if it had some stories to tell- tales of flooding and clearing, maybe a bit of heartache and loss mixed in as well. As I slowly approached it, I chuckled as I saw two squirrels play a game of hide and seek, winding their way in and out of the cavern of the once magnificent tree. I could see tufts of green and yellow poking out of various parts of the piece of wood, and although it looked exposed and weary-maybe BECAUSE of exactly that-I felt some sort of solidarity with it. Here was this tree, who had obviously been through a lot, hollowed out, yet it was still standing, roots tightly gripping the solid ground, regardless of being so weathered, gnarled, and aged.


“That’s what I feel like”, I thought to myself, as I kept moving forward, running down the street.

Weathered, a bit gnarly, still standing, but hollowed out, just the same.


My first reaction to that thought was chastising- how sad. I’ve been through so much in the last five years, and this year, while it’s been tough, has not been my hardest. How could I call myself hollowed out right now? My life is full, bursting at the seams, if I were a tree, I SHOULD see myself as vibrant and budding, about ready to head into full blown Spring.


But then I started reflecting on all the times I’ve been out with my kids on various hikes, rambling through hardwood forests, wandering old and new trails. Whenever we find a tree or a log that has been hollowed out by the seasonal elements, insects or other wild life, it’s like we’ve hit Nature’s jackpot. When they come upon a cavernous type of place found in the middle of these trees, they immediately drop to their knees, check out who might be living in there, pondering on what more this tree has become. They can spend the better part of an hour hiding inside it’s shelter, climbing to new heights, as they dream up stories of trolls and bug cities and reflect on the possibility of taking refuge inside, during the inevitable thunderstorm.


To them, the tree is anything but hollow, it’s just an opening, an opportunity for new life to begin, epic adventures to be had, discovery of a different world than they have ever encountered before.


I always thought when we were playing in these hollows, that the tree had died a slow death by some unfortunate natural cause. I’ve come to learn that these trees are actually very much still alive, and although they are old and gnarly, experienced in the ways of harsh and unforgiving elements, they are still very much thriving, as their cells actually continue breathing, right beneath the surface of their bark, regardless of their lack of leaves or green, giving the appearance that there is no life left in them.


They have been opened up by Nature, virtually emptied out, but the purpose in it is to allow room for new things, new life. They are incredibly important to the natural world around them, just in a different way than they were before.


Imagining, as I got closer to home, all the animals and insects that have now claimed this particular tree, I couldn’t help but think of all the experiences over the last five years that have hollowed me out, leaving space for new things, the opportunity for a fresh, new start.


Today marks the five- year anniversary of freedom for me and my family. And while at the beginning of it all, I thought it was the actual captivity that was doing the hollowing, I’ve finally understood that it’s surviving the survival part- figuring out how to be a mother to two babies in the midst of recovering from trauma- working hard to be a wife to a man who thought he had lost everything, and in instant, had gotten it all back again- how to tell the story in a way that brings respect to those who put their lives on the line every day, and leaves people feeling inspired rather than afraid. These things, they have taken all my resources; but they have left an opening for my heart to expand in areas of compassion and empathy for those who are struggling right alongside me, standing strong, rooted to the Earth, all while being hollowed out for a variety of reasons beyond their control.


They have inspired me to plant myself deep and surrender to all that has become, because this is good, this is natural, this is necessary.


Every day we all wake up and stretch our limbs, raising our faces to the warm rising sun. Disillusionment, tragedy and loss, exhaustion and crisis thrash us about like this tree, being battered by the wind and rain. We go through our days- giving, hurting, loving-often, with nothing in return.


I’ve come to believe that the hollowness we sometimes may feel is actually one of the most essential parts of this natural thing we call life; it’s creating a better ecosystem for all that inhabit the space within and around us, above and below us.


I’m grateful today. For the process of hollowing, for those who have helped me dig deeper, rooting down, just a little more. For my children that fill my cavern with wonder, so infinite and deep, it cannot be contained inside this old tree. For my husband, my best friend, helping me lean in when I get so tired of surviving survival-for my best friend, my sister, my brother, my dad, who together, have rooted themselves alongside me, committing themselves to carrying on, weathering all of life’s storms.


Look up, sweet friends, the sun is shining. It’s a glorious, beautiful day.

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Jessica Buchanan © 2017

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