Trees. Yeah, we see you….all decked out in red, yellow and orange. There is no doubt, you can be absolutely beautiful. What attention hounds you are! But then again I suppose you have a right to strut your stuff before your autumn clothes fade, shrink and fall off, leaving you…..ahem….naked. Year after year you repeat the same cycle….bud, blossom and unfurl your broad, flat leaves. You dance in the breeze until you break from your tether and plunge down to skid across the pavement with your fallen brothers. Sadly, Brother Elm doesn’t even change color. He just shrivels up and dies. But that’s what you do when you’re deciduous. Deciduous trees are generally hard woods. Live fast, die hard. They’ve soaked up the nutrients in the soil…drank their fill. They’ve had their fun. Now the reckoning.
Deciduous…interesting word from Latin that just means “to fall down or fall off”. What causes leaves to fall? Well, I’m not clever enough to understand it all, but it has something to do with the leaf’s veins getting clogged up with trapped sugars causing a layer of separation. Once that separation is complete, the connecting tissues are sealed off and the leaf falls away. It sounds like some tragic botanical diabetic episode.
Of course, not every single leaf necessarily falls. Those same broad flat leaves that wave energetically in the spring, wilt when conditions are dry and in the winter, if they’re still hanging on, have the perfect surface area for holding ice and snow. Unlike their evergreen cousins, the tender deciduous leaves are not protected by any covering to shield them from the icy cold so the thin watery sap in their veins freezes rapidly. Usually, “ice water in the veins” means toughness and resilience. In this case, not so much. The leaves typically cannot survive the winter. When spring comes, the deciduous tree has to expend tremendous energy starting all over….creating a canopy from scratch.
Then you have the “conifer” (which I’m almost certain someone has named a child in a misguided effort to blend parental names Conrad and Jennifer). Conifer is just the hoity toity name for evergreen. It’s generally used by the same people who ask for “toe-mah-toes” in the super market. It just means the tree produces cones….those unlikely looking seed pods that create another generation of the Evergreen Family.
Some members of the Evergreen Family grow to be quite tall and slim…..almost pencil shaped or cylindrical. Others are a bit broader at the bottom (it happens to us all eventually) and narrower at the top. Evergreen branches are typically shorter and remain closer to the trunk of the tree, unlike the branches of the nosey maple that goes meandering over the neighbor’s privacy fence. They seem to be just content to grow where they’re planted. The evergreen’s “leaves”, for lack of a better term, are tough and prickly and make them able to withstand harsh winters. They are covered with a waxy substance that allows snow build-up to just slide off so the tree doesn’t accumulate too much weight to pull it low to the ground and break. There is a substance inside the cells of the conifer that resists freezing…sort of nature’s Prestone…and insects don’t find it particular tasty. It’s true evergreens do shed some dead needles. Anyone who’s ever had a real Christmas tree in their living room knows this fact. But they don’t do it all at once. It’s a gradual process of sloughing off the dead while retaining the living.
Evergreens don’t need a constant nutrient fix like deciduous trees do. They are usually found in more arid climates where the soil is poor and less water is available, but that’s okay because the evergreen lives a more “slow and steady” lifestyle. It can conserve its energy because it does not have to grow a whole new set of leaves every year. It is generally known as a soft wood and it is valuable for timber, paper and plastics which are made from wood pulp that’s been chemically treated. Who knew? Landscapers will often use a row of evergreens standing side by side, not only to create a wind break, but to mark the property line and create privacy for the homeowner.
There is another tree category. There’s the tamarack and the larch tree which are “deciduous conifers”. Go figure. There always has to be someone to throw a wrench in it, ruin the curve, or be the exception to the rule. Make up your mind, guys. Are you conifers or deciduous?
Well, now I’m sure we’ve come to the point in this article where you are scratching your head and wondering if my next discourse will explore the advantages of the pump to the penny loafer, but I promise, there is a point to this and I’m getting there.
It’s interesting that the words “deciduous” and “decide” come from similar Latin roots. You know, sometimes you just have to decide whether you’re going to be deciduous or evergreen. I think it’s probably fun for a while to be deciduous….live a bright, bold, boisterous life where you’re playing hard and partying fast and sucking the life out of the people who nourish you. It’s all about you, right? Then before you know it, everything changes. Your source is at an end. The excess you stuffed yourself with is choking you to death. Relationships you thought would always be there are cut off. The cold, harsh winds of this life have caused you to just shrivel up inside. It’s all too much to allow you to hang on and finally all you can do is fall, say I’m sorry, and wait for a second chance.
I think I’d rather be an evergreen. I want to be soft wood. Yes, I know. It’s not quite as flashy…not quite as exciting growing where you’re planted, minding your own business, wearing what some would consider more a uniform than a colorful wardrobe. You’ve heard it. So have I. “Those Christians…what a boring, dull life they live. Their beliefs are too narrow. They won’t open their arms to embrace just anything.” You see, we can’t….not if we want to protect the cones….the seed pods of young evergreen Christians that we’re trying to bring up. We need to keep our branches close to the trunk, our Father, and allow that coating of the Holy Spirit to protect us from the parasitic threat of the enemy of our soul. I want to make sure, if the devil tries to take a bite out of me, that the taste of God’s power will drive him back. I know. I know. It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But I don’t think my mom would think so. She was an evergreen Christian, and when the icy snow of death covered her, it just slid right off and she lives on in Heaven.
You know what’s really powerful? A row of evergreen Christians…standing shoulder to shoulder in prayer, fighting the stiff winds of an evil world, creating a boundary that says “this far and no farther.”
So, deciduous or evergreen? Your choice. It ain’t easy being evergreen, but it’s worth it.