Strength of an Oak, Yet Bend Like a Willow

April 3, 2015 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)


Image Courtesy of The Hydrant Club

Building the Hydrant Club has been a fascinating process for me. A seemingly vast array of inbound channels of new things to learn, each one fatter and more jammed with information than the next. I knew I’d be learning about business. I knew I’d be learning about being a boss. I knew I’d be deepening and expanding my knowledge and skill regarding dogs and canine behavior.

What I didn’t know was that I’d be getting a crash course in horticulture.

I guess when you take a parking lot and turn it into a verdant swath of greenery – bucking both general geography as well as topographical challenges (e.g. the heart of an urban downtown set in a desert state) – it’s to be expected that you’ll need to get educated right quick.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this new knowledge has been about the trees – the best types to pick for this climate, the best way to plant them, the most efficient way to water them, pruning and most of all minding their health in the face of pests, diseases and wind … lots of wind.

When we first set our stunning collection of trees into the dirt back in November 2013, they hadn’t been in the ground more than a few days when a cold snap accompanied by the kind of gale force blasts that rip awnings off and send dumpsters sailing from parking lots into intersections barreled across the Valley.

Of course, I panicked. I scurried from my apartment over to the construction site to see how my girls were faring. The sound of creaking branches seemed to echo from 30 paces as I approached the fence. It seemed that the overhead lights and the beams cast from adjacent street lights had slipped into strobe mode as the branches whipped and snapped back and forth casting shadows. An electronica beat dance scene of whooshing leaves, pieces of branches snapping off and landing like the detrius of a club the morning after a rave.

Needless to say, I didn’t take it so well.

I called the landscaper and asked if he could come take a look at the trees the next day to make sure they were okay because I was pretty sure they weren’t. I could almost hear the smile in his voice (at least in hindsight … at the time I’m also pretty sure I was a wreck), as he agreed to meet me.

The next morning dawned clear and still. Heading for the Hydrant Club I reached the fence and found the landscaper waiting for me. As we walked through the site looking at the trees, he smiled and put his hand on my shoulder assuring me that not only were the trees okay, but that this storm had done us an enormous favor.

You see, the very whipping back and forth in the wind serves to strengthen the trees, helping them sustain life and establish their footing. Younger trees such as these bend to the wind, microscopic breaks arising as they sway to and fro, each one serving to knit back together giving the trunk strength and power. The growth isn’t something you see overnight. It becomes apparent over time. It’s the trees that don’t flex with the wind that suffer.

Some Trees of Hydrant Club
(L) One of 6 Arizona Ash Trees; (R) The “grand” Chinese Elm … aka Big Momma

I recall a time back in Philadelphia when a 200-year-old Oak tree on the property next to my parents’ house fought mightily against a winter storm. It lost. Snapping heartily in two with a volcanic crack, and landing across our street with a deadened thud. The Weeping Cherry Blossom, the various and sundry apple and pear trees, even the Maples and Pines all stood reaching to the sun, while their stoic friend lay shattered across the street. Though many of equal age and substantial size, these other varietals gave more willingly to the wind and ice and in giving way, allowing nature to course through, they survived and grew stronger.

Powerful change often is subtle, occurring over a span of time at the end of which you look and marvel at how far something has come, how much it has grown, how deeply it has changed. There are, of course, more dramatic changes that happen. Tectonic shifts – whether literal or figurative – cleaving things in two, tearing them apart. With these more striking changes, comes pain, eruptions that may eradicate things that were or leave them forever changed. At first such changes bring discomfort, sadness, but with time evolution arises again and something new blossoms resulting in something even more amazing.

I am, of course, leaving out of this equation dramatic change that comes at man’s hand – whether it be clear cutting or mining that rapes land, tearing away its foundation leaving hillsides to collapse after rain and such. I’m also not considering those dramatic changes that come when we attempt to force something that either isn’t intended to be or perhaps has not yet realized its time.

Every day I get to Hydrant Club and revel in the glorious span of branches from the trees that have settled in so deeply to this foreign place – turning a parking lot into a verdant green oasis scented deeply of earth and growing things.

I’ve come to realize that while working with dogs and their humans provides an amazing level of learning on a daily basis, there is much that I can learn from the trees. The importance of balance, of deepening my roots, steadying my trunk, reaching my branches wide and most of all, bending with grace when the winds blow.

I’m working on that last one.


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