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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Example (07/25/13)

TITLE: Black Spruce
By Carolyn Ancell


Traveling in our RV camper from our relatively treeless desert hometown of Tucson, Arizona toward our goal of Alaska far to the north, my attention was increasingly captured by the presence and the beauty of trees: the towering Coastal Redwoods and Giant Sequoias of California, the Trembling Aspens and delicate Paper Birches of British Columbia, and the Sub Alpine Firs of the Yukon. I was mesmerized by their symmetry of design, their many shades of brilliant green foliage, their stateliness, beauty and dignity. Then, somewhere along on the journey from the Yukon to Alaska, I noticed it: the Black Spruce. First, I saw one, then ten, then a hundred, a thousand, and finally tens of thousands; lining the sides of the road, marching across open fields, covering countless hills and mountains. They were everywhere. If you would like a fine example of everything a lovely tree is not, let me offer for your consideration the Black Spruce.

The Black Spruce appears asymmetrical, off-kilter, clumpy-looking, and knobby-topped; and is a decidedly dull green even in sunshine. Its thinly adorned branches, dried from fires and whipped by arctic winds, droop. The trunks of some list. Unable to hold their footing in the shallow permafrost beneath them, they lean against other Black Spruces which seem to be gathered uncomfortably together in large crowds, shoulder to shoulder.

The sight of the Black Spruce disturbed me. It was not "as lovely as a tree" (poet Joyce Kilmer) should be. I became distracted by its oddness, and began taking photographs of it, alone, in groups, against glacial backdrops, at sunrise and sunset. The tree seemed incongruous, I mean, if I wanted to "spruce up" like one of these specimens, my hat would be askew, one sleeve would be missing from my jacket, my trousers would be threadbare, and my shoes thin-soled. I needed to find someone to help me see the beauty in this example of an "ugly" tree.

Opportunity came at Denali National Park when I met young Ranger Lauren. She laughed when I asked, "Tell me about the Black Spruce." She taught me about its fierce nature, its hard wood, its fire dependence (it actually requires fire's heat to melt away the waxy covering on its cones in order to release the seeds inside), and its tenacious hold on life despite the challenges of cold, wind, shallow rocky soil and permafrost. I remembered our odd-looking but tenacious desert flora, clinging to life despite the challenges of heat, drought and sandy soil, and suddenly I knew and loved the Black Spruce!

I also acknowledged how dilapidated I can appear in challenging times. I reflected on the people I have met or known throughout my life and work who have at times appeared askew, who have seemed emotionally threadbare and spiritually listing. And I have admired and given thanks for their resilience, tenacity and faith-filled trust despite all odds.

I will treasure my photographs of the Black Spruce. I will remember them and celebrate them, and celebrate all of us who cling to life, through faith, against all odds. I thank God for introducing me to the Black Spruce, to it's disturbing presence, and it's grace-filled lessons.

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This article has been read 290 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Virgil Youngblood 08/03/13
Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable travelog that was on topic and a delight to read. The ending was thoughtful and packaged nicely. Well done.
Linda Goergen08/03/13
Ditto Virgil! This was such a wonderfully descriptive and interesting read! Amazing the lessons God put in nature for us to see! Great job!
C D Swanson 08/05/13
Oh what a creative way to bring the topic forward. I learned something about this amazing tree that the Lord created. I am going to look it up as soon as I finish this comment.

Thanks for the visual in this endearing story with an important message.

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 08/08/13
Congratulations for placing 11 in your level and 12 overall! (Highest rankings can found on the message boards)