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The Tree
by Susan Johnstone
Not For Sale
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It stood in a nursery amongst other decorative plants, one of numerous Ficus Microcarpa trees. It was meant to be a topiary tree sculpted into a smooth lollipop shape. But this particular plant had a forked trunk. It appeared the nursery owners had given up on pruning it into shape, as several errant branches reached out for freedom. The cheap price indicated the tree was not stylish enough. I bought it and took it home to the house I shared with a friend. We named the tree “Jethro”, for reasons I can’t explain – it just felt right.

I later moved into a tiny flat on my own – an L-shaped place with three rooms that was part of a jigsaw of three other flats, interlocking under the roof of an old wooden, highset house. One room was the bathroom and toilet, the main room formed my sleeping quarters and then a narrow room enclosed with a long bank of windows, jutted out along the side to be my living area.

The tree stood beside a window, it’s canopy touching the ceiling. I loved that place, and corresponding time of my life, studying at TAFE and working at a youth shelter. My horizons were being broadened, academically, emotionally, and culturally. Jethro thrived in this light, soaking up the morning rays of sunlight. It soon spread and became a focal point of my dining/lounge area. To enter the flat I had to duck beneath the branches with their glossy green leaves, and its vigour infused life into my home as well. From my windows I could see along the street and across the rooftops of the hillside before me. In the mornings I sat on my small patio, eating breakfast and watching commuters hurry to the train station. My cat curled up in the sun or wandered out amongst the lush grass in the backyard. My life was full.

But I moved again… and again, and the tree never had quite the same exposure to the sun or a wonderful high perch as it did back in my little flat. My personal life became difficult as a relationship broke up and I had a child. I made a monumental decision to move again - this time far, far away. My tree couldn’t travel with me so it went to live with my sister, relegated to sit on mossy pavers in a shaded suburban back yard.

When I returned I visited my tree and felt compassion for it, restricted in its little pot. But my future was uncertain and I couldn’t offer a better solution. A couple of years passed and I put down my own roots, buying some land in the bush, a place with a view of the mountains. Here, I had room to move and grow. But without a decent supply of water I couldn’t commit to sustaining a large plant like that. One day, I hoped I could put the tree on the verandah of my house – yet to be built.

More years passed and I had a hubby, a house, a family… things were going ahead. It was time to bring Jethro back into my life. I went back to my sister’s place and manhandled the tree into the back of my car. Dirt spilled out of the pot onto the floor, leaves squashed down under the roof. At last, I brought Jethro home.

We replanted Jethro in a larger pot and gave it fertiliser, looking forward to a thriving future.

My plans didn’t eventuate. The tree sat outside for a while, years in fact, while we figured out what to do with it. Meanwhile, we installed piping and taps and planted other trees in the yard.

“I’d like to bring that pot up onto the verandah one day,” I mused.

Bruce didn’t like the idea. Various objections were thrown around and there the tree stayed. I continued to water the tree, irregularly. I grew forgetful; other things were on my mind – new baby, busy life, a house to maintain.

One day, I remarked, “That tree seems to be doing a lot better, don’t you think?”

“Probably because it’s actually got its roots down to the ground,” Bruce explained. “It’s too big to be in a pot.”

It made sense. By now, the plastic pot was so old, it was bound to be cracked and split. The tree was doing well, much better than before. Relieved that Jethro was vaguely self-sufficient, I gave up on my half-hearted attempts to water it. Every now and then I hurriedly pulled out grass and weeds that crowded Jethro’s base in the pot. I had other things to worry about – stress of a new job, overtiredness, juggling family, business and church commitments…. My brain was such a ball of agitation I couldn’t think straight. Every brain cell seemed to be taken up with focussing on what I had to do next, and how. I had nothing left over to be creative – I lost my will to write.

Bruce was concerned about my level of over-commitment. I was concerned too, but couldn’t see a way out. My sister reminded me to seek support from a Bible study group. “Start up your own, or go to another church if you have to,” she urged.

I knew I needed spiritual food. I knew I couldn’t let my current stresses hem me in and restrain me from my sense of peace. So I started to ‘let go and let God’. I stopped worrying about other people’s expectations of me. I stopped trying to fix problems that weren’t mine. I read books. I listened to new music. I looked to anyone I could for guidance and encouragement, and I determined to seek nourishment from whatever source God put in my path.

Finally, my new year’s resolution was to follow my goals and dreams again. This year I would work less, commit myself to less at church and avoid areas of potential frustration. I would cherish the diminishing time left before Jessie heads off to school. And yes, I would make time to write. I would finish that book in the making.

I felt better, merely having made the decision.

My eyes wandered over to the Jethro again. I strode over and decisively did it – I tipped the pot over. Well, at least, I tried to. Long roots, good strong roots had pierced the bottom of the pot and drilled way down into the ground beneath. I dug at the soil, following the lines underground. I couldn’t believe how far the roots went. I marvelled at the survival instinct of this tree. It couldn’t get the nourishment it needed, so it broke out of its enclosure and went looking for some.

With Bruce’s help we freed the roots and trimmed them back. We dragged the tree up the hillside to an honoured position near our gateway. Jethro was not being re-potted and relocated. It was being set free! Bruce dug a hole, a very big hole, with room for the roots to spread. We lowered the tree into the hole and firmed soil around the trunk. We watered it in, and the next day I trimmed the branches back to lessen the transplant shock.

I watched Jethro carefully. I watered again, and watched and waited. I regretted my past inattentions, and so desperately wanted the tree to do well. With good conditions, this 2-metre tree could expand into a 30-metre Fig! I imagined the strong branches and deep shade we would enjoy.

Weeks have passed now and the wonderful news is that Jethro is growing healthily. But even more astounding for me to realise, is the parable of the tree. My heart was particularly dragged into this saga of a simple tree struggling to survive, and seeking its own nourishment, before being dramatically set free for a life of unfettered growth and development. As I looked at the parallels of what was happening in my own life, I realised: That’s me!


“But I will bless the person who puts his trust in me. He is like a tree growing near a stream and sending out roots to the water. It is not afraid when hot weather comes, because its leaves stay green; it has no worries when there is no rain; it keeps on bearing fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7,8 (Good News Bible)

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