While walking through an area of woods a while back, I stumbled upon two massive Sycamore trees growing close to a creek. Sycamores always stand out to me, and I’m always excited to find one. They have big leaves, and their trunks shed their bark tissue when they outgrow it, leaving the bottoms with a speckled look while the tops are white all over. They grow tall, too. It’s fairly common for a sycamore to pass 100 feet in maturity.
The two Sycamores I came upon were no exception. Both were among the tallest trees in that stretch of woods. But there was something else about them that stood out to me. Some of their roots were exposed on top of the ground, and when I looked around at them, I noticed something—the roots were connected. In fact, there was no way to tell where the roots of one changed into the roots of the other. They weren’t intertwined, they were fused together.
This got me wondering: Were these really two separate trees, or was it one tree with two trunks? As it turns out, the answer is a little bit of both. There’s a natural occurrence that sometimes happens in trees called inosculation. It’s where two trees, usually two of the same kind, grow into one another so that they touch. Eventually, the outer layers of their bark wears away, and the two literally fuse together into one. The end result is so clean that it appears as if it has always been that way, and such was the case of the roots that joined between the two Sycamores.
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As I reflect on the coming year, I seem to be more occupied with the one that is passing. “Ring out the old / ring in the new,” said Tennyson. “The year is going / let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.” Tennyson had greater things in mind when he wrote that, and I take his meaning. Yet, in thinking of the passing from one year into another, I can’t shake that old feeling, the feeling that this year cannot simply start fresh—it must pick up where the old year left off. And such is the nature of every passing season. A child must go based on what he has been taught; a builder must build upon the foundation set by another; a year must bring with it all the good and bad of the ones that came before it. The passing years, like those twin Sycamores, seem to dissolve into one another, so that in time, it cannot be said where one ends and one begins.
But with each year comes the blessed hope; the hope that says this year will be better than the last, and that it may even be The year, whatever that means. In that hope, there is a longing for perfection, a longing for a year where everything goes right. And yet, as idealistic as that hope may be, it is in fact how hope was meant to be. Hope is not wispy or boneless—it is the mortar and stone foundation of a greater building that is yet to be established. It is a proclamation, or as Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers / that perches in the soul.” Hope is born in a place of longing, in a place where perfection has not yet come, and yet, it is perched within the soul of those who long for perfection to come, perched and ready to take flight when perfection does finally come.
And so, to this new year, and any others that may come, I join with Tennyson in saying, “Ring in the valiant man and free / the larger heart the kindlier hand / Ring out the darkness of the land / Ring in the Christ that is to be.”