Wednesday, April 13, 2016


here is the root of the root 
and the bud of the bud 
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; 
which grows
higher than the soul can hope 
or mind can hide
(e.e. cummings)

while at the dentist this week, i got x-rays of my mouth.  and while looking at the milky image of my teeth composed against the midnight black, i was distracted by the roots.

i was stunned by just how deep the roots are.  when you look at your teeth in the mirror you see so much less than what they actually are, you see just a fraction of them, only the part that is exposed to the world, roughed up daily by the friction of food, polished twice a day by a brush and minty paste.  i thought i knew my teeth – i guess not.

and because you have plenty of time to be in your head at the dentist, and are often thirsty for distraction as you lay flat, mouth wide, jaw numb, examining the texture of ceiling panels in the examination room  - i got to thinking more about roots in general.

the classic metaphor of something only fractionally seen is an iceberg.  approximately 7/8 of the iceberg’s mass is under water.  in other words, the “root” is majority of the creature.  in other words, what most of us know and recognize as an “iceberg” from images, is only a portion of the profile.  the term iceberg is from the dutch for “ice mountain” – but this is a mountain inverted, and usually hidden under the surface of the sea.  the iceberg’s roots are 7/8 of its being, and this majority is rendered essentially invisible. 

i got to thinking how incredible and incredibly sad it would be if 7/8 of ourselves was below the surface, rendered essentially invisible.  and then i got to thinking that perhaps this is just so, no “if” about it.  how much of ourselves to we show to others, truly? how much of ourselves to we show to ourselves?

tree roots are equally thought-provoking and equally unseen.  the giant sequoia, the world’s largest tree by volume, has an extensive root system.  the tiny, thread-like tendrils spread out from the tree up to 200 feet.  this root system is only 12 to 14 feet under the soil, but maintains the equilibrium of a tree that is almost 300 feet tall and nearly 2 million pounds at maturity. 

that got me to thinking about how wide spread our roots sometimes can be. do shallow, extensive roots provide us greater personal equilibrium over a deep, confined tap root?  if you ever see a portion of a giant sequoia uprooted (or image search it) – it is beautiful.  although the sight signifies the demise of a woodland leviathan, the web that was hidden under the soil is mystifying to behold.  it is a moment to take pause and consider the mystifying beauty of the hidden roots in each of us, should we ever chance to be uprooted.  maybe we should chance…

because trees are my deal – i also got to thinking about the quaking aspen (their leaves “quake” a captivating dance in the breeze).  when you behold an aspen “grove,” chances are you are actually seeing one “clone” tree.  aspens regenerate vegetatively via shoots that arise along lateral roots.  each tree in the clone shares identical characteristics and shares the same root structure.  best of all – each tree in the clone will shift into fall colors and into winter sparseness at the same time.  magic. 

this got me to thinking of the common roots we share with those closest to our hearts – how we often mimic characteristics in each other, phase in and out of life chapters at the same time.  and when you find you are a bit out of sync with the rest of the trees in your clone – their leaves have turned to golden yellow and yours still a spring green – it leaves you with a bit of an identity crisis.  these trees are your tribe, so why are you not the same shade?  although an individual aspen tree can’t reach out its own roots elsewhere and survive, can’t leave the clone and later return to it, that is sometimes what is required of us.  you still share the same leaf shape and bark as the rest, you are still a tribe member in that regard.  although a bit unnerving, your contrasting hue allows you to properly appreciate the beauty of their golden yellows, as they all shift together.  maybe the beauty increases at a distance, as you stand apart.  maybe that is the only way to really see the beauty at all. maybe this is a gift they give you without knowing.

as i said – there is a bit too much time to get pensive during dental work, and especially when mesmerized by an x-ray of the roots of your teeth.  you realize there are parts of yourself you don’t know at all, haven’t made the effort to see.  and, if that is true of yourself, the person’s who’s head, heart, and body you live in every moment of everyday – this must be even more true for those you know “well” and those you hardly know.

the take away for me with the captivating idea of roots is to develop eyes to see and a heart of longing to know the roots that lay hidden in me.

and, in you.


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