I’m standing in the living room of the old, rambling farmhouse we’ve just finished renovating. One hand on my hip, the other cupping my chin with my thumb and index finger, I hesitantly scan the room. “Are there just way too many types of wood in this room?” I ask my mother-in-law. She is standing to the right of me and watches, as I nod towards the oak wooden beams and then the pine floor and then the walnut coffee table and then the new dining chairs with the ash legs.
“No”, she replies in her direct and confident German way. “When we walk in the woods, there are so many different types of trees, and yet we don’t think there are too many types, do we? We just enjoy the trees.”
We just enjoy the trees.
She’s a wise woman, my mother-in-law.
I’ve spent nearly every day of the summer here in Germany walking in the woods. Sometimes with dear friends who came to visit—walking shoulder to shoulder as we put the world to rights—and sometimes I walked alone, lost in thought, dreaming and planning and pondering.
I thought so much about my mother-in-law’s wisdom about the trees. And each day, as I followed the long dirt-track trails through the woods, I spent a lot of time observing the trees. I began to notice just how different each tree was from the other. Some were tall and spindly with moss stretching all the way up their giant trunks. Some were small and squat with interesting shaped leaves. Some were streamlined—almost like they’d been planted with a mathematical ruler. And some grew chaotically, weaving their branches through neighbouring trees, making it hard for me to figure out just where one tree started and the other ended.
As I wandered and wondered, I began to notice exactly what my mother-in-law had described; that I did not compare one tree to another or even think much about each tree other than “Oh, that’s a tree!” I appreciated and enjoyed each tree exactly as it was, no matter how tall, small, wonky, spindly, odd-looking or overbearing. I did not compare the birch trees with the oak trees or the spruces with the beech trees or the trees I did not know the names of with the other trees I did not know the names of. I did not think “There are just far too many types of trees in this wood, all the trees should look the same and be the same.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we thought about each other in the same way?