Please welcome today’s guest writer, Jerry Grieser. Jerry graduated in 2016 with a degree in economics and now works as a consultant at an exhibit design company in Grand Rapids.

“Would you rather be a tree or a cloud?”

The question was one which we tend to use to easily ascribe simple psychological traits to ourselves. Clearly if I’m a tree, I value connectedness, rootedness, and the ability to grow where I’m planted. And if I’m a cloud, I value change, the ability to adapt to my surroundings, and I would be someone who is free-spirited.

In a past life, I would have said that I would rather be a cloud. I would be thinking of the person who I wanted to be and was certain I could become. Of course I would rather be a cloud. I wanted to be someone who was flexible, open to change, and had the ability to go out and conquer the world. A tree was decidedly none of those things. I didn’t want to be someone who was inflexible and stuck in place.

Now I know myself a little better and am comfortable owning up to the fact that I would rather be a tree. Still, there was a little hesitation in my voice when I answered. I was worried that by having that answer, the other person would quickly see the “negative” aspects of being a tree, just as I did. Because, of course, I still wanted to be seen as a free spirit and someone open to change. To my relief, the other person said that they would rather be a tree, as well.

The more I thought about this question, the more I thought about the benefits of being a tree and why I identified so clearly with it. Trees are, in fact, great representatives of many things we should value and those which will serve us throughout life. Ritual, interconnectedness, and symbiosis with ecosystems, to name a few.

Just as trees grow and hibernate with every passing season, humans have rituals to mark the passing of time and significant events. The sustaining beauty of ritual can be seen in our daily acts. We make a cup of coffee every morning and drink it while reading the morning news. We go to a dance class the same day every week. We go to church and sing the doxology every week. All these simple rituals become powerful over time and grant us a sense of place and peacefulness in life.

Trees are also interconnected with each other through intertwining root systems, and they have some sort of “spatial awareness” called crown shyness. In some tree species, the crowns of fully-grown trees don’t touch each other, which creates a tree canopy with channels running throughout. Our desire to connect and form tight bonds with other people is one of our basest drives and most instinctual desires.

Trees also become the keystone species in their ecosystem and connect with a myriad of other ecosystems. Humans obviously impact every corner of the natural world and we need to take great care in our responsibility for stewarding the planet.

After thinking about those and other commonalities I saw in trees and in humans, I decided I was much more comfortable and happy that I was a tree rather than a cloud. It’s also made me realize that I’m one small step closer to understanding the importance of being present and connected in the place I am today. And I certainly have time to learn some things from those free-spirited cloud people.

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