A number of years ago I sat on my front porch and watched a work crew take down the ancient ash tree that stood by the street in our neighbor’s yard. For decades it had provided welcome shade on our sleepy street in the heat of summer and shelter for any number of species of birds and squirrels. Eventually, the heavier branches decayed and dropped periodically without warning. The old tree became a nuisance and then a hazard; eventually, the town decided to take it down.
I counted the rings after the men packed up their trucks and carted off the cut up logs, chipped branches and debris. The tree was nearly 150 years old.
On closer inspection you could discern distinctive differences in those rings. Some were narrow, others were fat — reflections of good and lean years, ambient temperatures and rain and snowfall, relative changes in climate over the course of its long life. The heartwood, generally the strongest part of the tree at the core, had softened and decayed, so much so that when the crew made the final cut through the base of the trunk, a gush of vile liquid spewed forth from the gaping wound.
Many years have come and gone since I rambled through the woods and fields of my boyhood. Like most folks, I have had lean years and years of plenty. Together, all of them have made me what I am, shaped me into what I have become. I have learned to value the imperfections in those years of growth. In many ways they have sharpened my outlook, honed my perceptions and strengthened the heartwood.
Old timers used to say that you could read a man by studying the map of his form and face. In retrospect, these are but the reflections of the rings and heartwood of the soul.