Saturday, 22 January 2022

Tree Thoughts

Trees are woven into the background fabric of my life. I remember the shady old maples that lined our driveway when we lived on our farm in Ontario. 


I remember the spreading branches of the catalpa with its heart-shaped leaves growing in the yard of our apartment in town, and the ash saplings we dug out of a friend’s woods and transported to our new home on the bumper of our little Volkswagen Beetle. I climbed trees, hung by my legs from their branches, played house in their shade, rested against their trunks as I daydreamed. For my tenth birthday, mom and dad gave me a little Golden Field Guide to the Trees. At school, we memorized Joyce Kilmer’s poem, "Trees."

Trees were always there, always lovely, always in the landscape of my life, no matter where I lived or what stage of life I was experiencing.

But one day, when I was a middle-aged woman, a speaker at a conference in Vancouver added a whole new dimension to my concept of trees. He told us about nurse logs. A nurse log, he said, is a tree that has died, and then fallen down in the forest. As it decomposes, as insects and microbes break it down, it slowly turns into soil. The chemical action of decomposition creates warmth, and much like an incubator, it creates a safe and fertile environment for new little trees to sprout and grow. 


With this lovely image, our speaker was making a point about change, which is all around us – not only in nature, but also in beliefs, institutions, even in our own personal and family lives. New growth comes from old forms that no longer live, but create an environment that nourishes the growth that comes from change. The death of these old forms is not a waste, but can become an incubator for growth.

And what’s true for trees is also true for humans.

This was an eye-opener for me, an “aha” moment. The insight was comforting, but also challenging. Change happens – that’s inevitable. So how do you use the past to promote healthy growth?

Fast forward to 14 years ago, when we moved to Vancouver Island after spending 33 years in Alberta. We were sure this is what we wanted to do, but all changes are hard. One day, feeling disconnected from everything we’d left behind, I walked in the woods and found peace in the trees. I felt gratitude for the past, but realized that in it were the seeds of our future. This began my art quilting journey. I created a little quilt to express my feelings of disconnection.


A month later, feeling more settled in my environment, I created another, featuring a healthy tree beside a flowing river, to document the journey of change. I created more tree pieces, based on what I saw on my walks in the woods. And so it went. 

This tree beside the Puntledge River was still vibrant when I created this piece in about 2010. It has since fallen down and is gone. I miss it.

Soon, there was a “tree wall” in our home, a gallery of art pieces that features trees in all kinds of formats. 

A more recent piece also features trees.  It is entitled “New Growth from Old” featuring a nurse stump (which I’ve written about before on this blog “What a Wonderful World, May 25, 2019). 


 This is another one, which I named “Three Sisters.” 


This year is a momentous year for my two sisters and me. Two of us celebrated 50 years of marriage, and the younger one celebrated 30 years. This calls for some new fibre art, and so I created three identical “Three Sisters” tree pieces, one for each of us. The nurse log at the bottom of the piece has grounded us as sisters, and has provided rich soil for our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social growth. It’s the ground of our being.

But there’s even more significance to these tree nurseries. The sibling trees grouped together create a supportive environment in which to grow. Their roots intertwine and communicate with each other. Their roots also receive distress calls from each other, and the sibling trees will adjust their feeding patterns to help the one in distress, even sending out nutrients to the struggling sibling tree.  (I’m not making this up; the latest scientific research supports this.) These trees – and we as sisters – have each others’ backs.

My journey with trees is not finished yet. Those nurse logs have not only provided a place for young trees to grow, but also inspired thoughtful growth for an older woman like me.


  1. What a beautiful image of the sister's connection. And congratulations to you all on your marriage milestones… I see a tree image in the marriage context also! Judy

  2. Thanks for your comment and observation. Yes, if we explore that image further, there's so much to think about. We are all connected!

  3. These pieces are stunning Jessie. I just today listened to a program on CBC radio about trees and how they share information amongst their root systems. Thanks for this! I am partial to trees and have many pictures and paintings in my living room. I am looking forward to seeing yours firsthand.