At a state park near my house, I sometimes hike in the woods. There are so many trees and so many vines. They grow so big, winding around the trees, imposing on their space, stealing sunlight and resources, choking the life right out of them.
When I was in middle school, I went to a church camp. During a hike in the woods, my counselor explained to us that when vines grow around the trees, the trees will eventually die. It’s tempting to clip the vines, kill them before they grow around other trees. “We don’t do that,” said my counselor, “because we let nature have its way. Cutting the vines means that we’re playing God.”
This is the same counselor who told me the story of the man walking on the beach and throwing starfish back into the ocean. There were so many starfish on the beach and the man starts picking them up and throwing them back into the water. “You’ll never save all the starfish,” someone insisted. “I can save this one,” the man replied.
How is it okay to save starfish tossed by waves to the shore, but not cut the vines away that are choking a tree? If you want to know the truth, a lot of things that happened at that church camp never quite added up anyway.
Sometimes I stand next to one of those vine-choked trees and think about the moment when the vine will finally win and the tree will fall to the forest floor. I look down into the gulley and I wonder what it would be like to finally surrender and give in to what is an inevitable end.
I think about the tree, once so tall, sturdy, and full of life. The tree that has weathered wind storms, rain storms and snow storms. The tree that has defied odds and grown so much that I can’t even see the top. The tree will eventually succumb to vines.
The vines will take me too, some day.
I once stood tall and sturdy. I once was full of life. I can look back on my life and see the storms weathered, the victories won, the odds defeated. I look at my life now and all I see are places where the vines are stealing the life from me.
I suppose if I look back on my life closely enough, I can see the starts of each vine that has now grown so large and imposing. I can see each little shoot beginning its ascent. I wonder why I let them continue to grow. If I had known where they were going and the damage they could cause, I would have ignored the advice of my middle school counselor and yanked them out by the roots before they could even start their climb.
Yet, small vine sprouts aren’t very menacing.
Maybe to the tree, they seem to be good company. Maybe it’s comforting not to grow alone. Maybe I feel the same way and have allowed the vines to become constant companions.
Sometimes I feel like the vines have become just big enough that I can finally feel their winding, choking, constricting…