Image credit: Jon Sullivan
For work, I sometimes find myself spending hours and hours in a Greyhound, watching the beautiful countryside fly past in an endless reel of blues on greens. The country in which I live (New Zealand) is awash with casual spectacles that bloom outside that bus’s windows while I listen to Ira Glass tell me stories or while I sleep on the shoulder of my seatmate. Though I often find myself just missing some countryside spectacle–that rainbow we just passed or the seals sleeping on the rocks of that receding shore–over and over again, when my head’s properly in the game, I find that this planet is absolutely miraculous in its depth of natural grace and unguarded grandeur.
My easy distraction from the glories outside my window have really gotten me thinking, though. If I pay attention, the land is beautiful. If my vision drifts away, however, the land is still beautiful. At any given second, for every tree I notice and mentally applaud, there are about a hundred I’m missing entirely, right outside that same window, whizzing by unnoticed. How am I supposed to appreciate them all? There are so many trees. And so few people who will ever become acquainted with each tree’s maze of bark and unnameable hues.
What astounds me even more though is that there are trees on the planet that not only will I be unable to see, but nobody will be able to see. Ever. There are trees that will take root and grow and die–a process that can last over a thousand years sometimes–trees that will never be properly seen by human eyes. The tree-hugger in me, of course, is nuts about this idea because theoretically, in a better world, that would be true for a larger percentage of our planet’s foliage than it currently is; but the tree-fangirl in me balks at that concept. Each tree is so beautiful. How can they all just exist like that, with nobody around to treasure roots and leaves and the natural filter the sunlight provides winding its way through shade? I know it sounds ridiculous, and that maybe I’m getting a little worked up here, but I’m actually super serious. I’d love to see every single tree, ever, and it kind of slays me that that can’t happen.
But in the same way that I’ve noticed (shockingly) that the earth remains beautiful whether or not my eyes are glued to my bus window, I find it incredible that each tree will remain an individual wonder without anybody around to say it’s so. I’ve found huge comfort in that fact as I’ve been mulling this over the past few weeks. There are roughly 400 billion trees on the planet, and our God takes care of every single one. He lifts leafy arms out of the soil with patient solicitude and spreads roots through the earth in thoughtful respect for each tree’s existence.
Back on the bus (we’re almost to Napier), my inattentive mind drifts to other thoughts. I feel very nineteen, and very lost; my mind meanders away from tree worship without the slightest push back to the deep ruts of worry carved by overuse like the streams in the land beside me. See, I find a painful amount of uncertainty as I look into my future. I feel like I should have found my legs by now, but I still devote an inordinate amount of my waking minutes stewing about what to do with my life and how to go about doing it. I have often found myself weakly convinced of the romance surrounding personal triumph and more frequently than not I prefer to rhapsodize like a Bohemian about my corner of the universe–nothing really matters, anyone can see. But then as I gaze from my bus window moving down some quiet highway of some small island falling off the bottom of the globe and see the hundreds of thousands of trees that pass unassumingly, and yet spectacularly, on the side of the road, I am reminded: God cares about me. Little ol’ me. Rather than considering my hopeless sense of direction in life, I should consider the lilies of the field! I don’t know how, and I can’t really wrap my head around why, but as I keep stepping into my Next Year and my Year After That, God will be helping me to lift my arms out of the soil and spread my roots out where He knows I will prosper best. He will help me get through school, and He will help me find a career, and He will help me perfect myself even if sometimes my growing pains are aching and slow.
Joyce Kilmer has famously written, “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree,” and yet Gordon B. Hinckley has also said, “Of all the creations of the Almighty there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God…” I think as I contemplate with trepidation who I am now and who I want to try to be in these next few formative years, I need only look outside my window at the kauri lining my horizon to know that I am in good hands.
The seven billion of us are nothing compared to the 400 billion of them. If He has time to make all of those lives beautiful, I think I’m going to be okay.