Learning from Dormancy, or Conversations with Trees

Prepost comment #1:  This post is for the worn out, the creatively or spiritually exhausted, the cold and dismal…souls who have lost their place in the sun.  I say creative, because many creative people can attest to the phenomena that exists–of this spark that seems to come from outside of you that fuels your creative passion–and if it doesn’t come, it can’t be forced or coerced.  Loss of it shows up as writer’s block, fear of the white page, and overly worked paintings.  I say spiritual, but that will be obvious in the writing.  If this is the first time you are visiting my blog, welcome!  I’ll be the first to acknowledge this isn’t a typical post from here–it is longer and more detailed than normal.  I tried to break this concept into smaller chunks, but I just couldn’t get it to flow.  If this piece isn’t for you, I hope you will return another day.  If it is for you, you will probably appreciate that I didn’t post it in separate sections.

Prepost comment #2:  Both my sets of grandparents had orchards.  Peach, almond, walnut.  I walked them as a child, by my grandfather’s side, and listened as they talked to the trees.  It seemed almost poetic tradition that I find myself doing the same, as I walk through my neighborhood.  I have learned lessons about living from trees before.  I do have to put myself mentally in a different place to write this piece, partially because it is a lovely 75 degrees around where I live.  That makes it hard to remember that in other parts of the country, winter still has everyone in its icy grip.  A recent visit to Michigan helped!

Last year, my area had two horrible frosts, one right after the other.  The weeks previous were warming, gentle, sweet–a promise that the season was changing.  Fresh tender leaves were unfurling, new blossoms were sending out the scent of spring. 

Overnight the temperature plummeted, rose for a few days, then plummeted again.  The damage was extensive. 

It really got me thinking about living in this kind of environment, and how it parallels our own.  About what it feels like to go through the transitions these living things endure.  About them and us, how the conditions that surround us change without our consent, how we are without control. And I found as I talked to the trees and plants around me, I was also talking to myself.

Oh, beloved.  You weren’t prepared for this, were you?  You didn’t see this coming.  There wasn’t time–time to quiet yourself, to hunker down and brace for the coming storm.   No warning.  Yesterday, you felt the sun on your shoulders and today it has abandoned you and left you cold.   It’s shocking.  It feels…rude.  Like a betrayal.

Things are left undone, and you no longer have the reserves to do them.  All you can do is watch your efforts fall to earth.  Premature leaves stripped away by harsh winds.  Future fruits you invested time and energy in, unripened, that you watch shrivel in your hands, helpless to stop it. 

You are remembering warm, summer days, aren’t you?  Where the sun kissed your leaves, nourishment flowed through you and fruit seemed to effortlessly appear?  Your blooms were radiant.  The scent of nectar filled the air.  Anyone who looked at you could see it, the effects of the light, and could identify you easily by what you produced.  Now…it feels like you have lost your identity.  You hardly recognize yourself.  Now how are you known to others?  This mass of scratchy branches, bare twigs and stumps, without anything to offer?

But, my darling, you are not your leaves.  You are not your flowers.  You are not your fruit.  These are all products of the light, brought forth by the light, initiated by the light.  You can’t conjure them up without it.  What is ‘you’ goes deeper than these things–who you are is in your bones, in your roots.  I know that is difficult to remember, especially when bitter winds tear your lovely leaves away and your fruit lies frozen under snow. 

It feels like death.  It feels brittle and dry and forlorn.  Time gets lost, and it seems like it has been this way forever.

The only reason you know you aren’t dead is because you can still feel.  If you were truly dead, you would no longer hurt.  The bitter wind couldn’t reach in to your bones and make you ache. 

The cold couldn’t sneak down your spine and sieze everything up, making movement all but impossible.  Dormancy means allowing the cold in. 


You feel ashamed of yourself.  As if you, in this exposed form, are any less.  Any less beautiful.  Any less loved.  Any less than what you were created to be.  Did you know you used to hide behind your leaves?  The products of the light? You didn’t need to. What the sun produced through you did not give you your worth.  You don’t ever need to feel shame in this place and time–it serves a purpose.  It is not punishment.  It is a season. 

In fact, there is strength in where you are.  A dignity that exists in weathering storms.  Dormancy requires bold trust–you are painfully aware that the outside environment has to initiate rebirth.  It is a pregnant pause.  It represents a belief that something outside of you knows you are waiting. 

Dormancy demands patience.  If you try and grow prematurely–if you try to develop past what the surroundings will support–you expose tender new shoots to conditions that will kill it.  The very thing you are afraid of will happen by your own hand.

Dormancy is sacred.  It deserves respect, not reproach.  It deserves tenderness.  It represents a span of time marked by hesitant hope as you watch for the sunrise.  Waiting for the light to bless your rebirth.

So you wait.  And in that waiting, try to find some peace.  How?  What do you do?  I can tell you what I have experienced, and seen others do.  Some find strength by seeking out others whose Spring is upon them.  They look for someone they can trust, that they can be who they are, where they are.  The Winter-bound find shade under their leaves, nourishment in their fruit and companionship.  

Try not to be jealous under their lush canopy, beloved.  A close look and you will see they bear the healed-over wounds of winter, similar to the ones you are nursing now.

Others cannot be with Spring-dwellers.  It is too painful.  So they seek out those waiting out their own storms.

There is wisdom in this, as long as the group doesn’t create culture of bitterness.  For your fruit to be sweet once again.

Many find that dormancy is a state in which to be solitary.  Learn the difference between ‘alone’, which is a statement of fact, and ‘lonely’, which is an emotional assignment you can choose or not choose.  You may find that isolation has virtues you didn’t know existed.


In waiting, trust your roots.   Try to find new ways to nurture them, if the old ways feel forced. 

In waiting, celebrate any small growth you can find.

In waiting, try to appreciate your surroundings.  Dormancy is a time of quiet, of reflection, of a certain kind of rest–if you can calm the voices that plague you.

There is beauty.  It is not an obvious beauty, but it exists.  Become an expert at acknowledging its presence.

Ooohhh, there is this broken branch just dangling here…I can see it used to be your most precious.  That it was very productive.  You guard it carefully.  Can’t you see that it is gone?  Even when the light returns, you won’t be able to bring this back. 

Would you let me help you?  I know what it means to you.  It is painful to let it go–you have been holding onto it for a long time.  It represents a golden age, it is a souvenir of sorts.  Would you let me free you of its weight?  

 What if I honored it? Can we mark it as a significant thing for you, a beautiful thing, and simply be grateful it existed?

Something will grow there again, I promise.  I’ve seen it.

I know…you didn’t think you would be so alone.  You remember earlier days, when others gathered around to enjoy the effects of the light.   Many settled in your shade, being fed and sheltered by the new growth.  Others climbed your heights with you, and their presence cheered your heart.  You thought it would always be this way, and their loss is almost more than you can bear.

Where have they gone? 

For some that left, you simply became unrecognizable.  As hard as it was for you to remember you aren’t your leaves and fruit–for others, it was impossible.  They saw you stripped bare, they saw your thorns and brambles, and couldn’t see you were still you.  It’s their lesson to learn, that the core of a being goes through seasons of change, death, rebirth, transformation. 

Some, my child, drifted off without your notice because they were entering a winter of their own.  Now you know how painful it can be, to stand beside someone for whom the sun seems to glow, while you shiver.  Remember this.  Someone may need your comfort when winter comes for them.

Some left because they saw your leaves shrivel, they felt your sap thin out and were afraid they were a burden.  They thought their weight in your branches was too much.  They didn’t know that their presence there was more like the reassurance of a friend’s arm thrown lazily over your shoulder, rather than crushing force that broke you. 

 Sometimes people think they are helping you by letting you go. 

And you might as well own it–some left because you got harsh.  One of the benefits of leaves is that it buffers you.  It creates a cushion between you and others.  Without it, you were abrasive.  Try to learn from it without destroying yourself with guilt.  These kinds of conditions bring out the worst in people, and you are no exception.  Make amends where it is appropriate, and use it as a lesson to temper yourself, and keep your reactions under control.

Some were led elsewhere.  It was only kind, love, for them to go.  They needed something you could no longer give, and it would have hurt you both for you to try.

Others left because they were Seed-bearers.  It was the natural conclusion and cumulation of your work.  They took what you made through the light and carried it off to serve others.  Isn’t that what you really wanted?  The alternative…would be contrary to your nature.  It would be devastating if all you produced lay dead at your feet.

Some left, quite frankly, because they were Sign-seekers.  Back then, they looked to you and saw evidence of the light.  They looked to you and saw what someone could do when the light graced them, infused them and enveloped them.  They were fed by it, sheltered by it, and when the light withdrew…all those signs disappeared…and so they did as well. 

Don’t blame them, beloved.  All start out as Sign-seekers. Including you.  Don’t be surprised.  All are made to be attracted to the beauty the light creates.  They are chasing it because they need it.  The fact that they left your presence to seek the presence of the light isn’t necessarily wrong, even though it feels that way.  Don’t forget what comes first–the sun shines, growth begins, and that is the outward expression of the light.  Then fellowship and community comes out of it.

They may return.  And others will come when the light returns to you. 

You winced.  Do you think the light has shunned you forever? 

Are you afraid you will never feel the light grace you again?  Are you fearful that you have permanently been rejected, banished to this climate, destined to the cold and harsh winds?  This is not a permanent condition, it is a season.  It will not continue forever–I know.  I can see the calendar.  Daily we move towards a time where the sun will return…I can’t tell you exactly when, but I can tell you it will.

You will again feel the warmth.  You will again thrive under the sun.  Your energy will return. 

Your leaves will grow, flowers will bloom, fruit will come forth. 

I know it is a lot to ask, to trust me.  But I can see the calendar, and Spring is coming. 


I hope this post helped, if you find you are in this place.  I think that this lesson is partially why I keep being drawn as an artist to trees–you may have seen, I have a tag set aside just dedicated to the tree, in drawings and paintings and photographs and batiks.  I decorate my home with them, I wear clothing and jewelry adornments to remind me. 

Like this ring, that I love.

I also find comfort in music, such as this and this.   I encourage you to find your own symbols and structures to help you wait out this season.

To my fellow Winter-dwellers, I nod to you.  Keep the faith.


~ by collidescopes on February 29, 2012.

3 Responses to “Learning from Dormancy, or Conversations with Trees”

  1. Really nice, thanks for sharing. At least photos allow us to see what miss.

  2. This post will help me get through some really tough times. Thank you for such beautiful words and imagery.

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