Lessons Learned by Observing Olive Trees

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Lessons Learned by Observing Olive Trees

Recently I visited Greece and was mesmerized by the amazing shapes and the knots formed over time in the olive trees. People have been cultivating olive trees for thousands of years BCE. As I walked through (and travelled beside) multiple groves I saw them as a metaphor for parenting and the arc of life. Admittedly, I am a life-long lover of trees and recently read (and recommend) The Overstory by Richard Powers, so I am looking at trees a bit more carefully these days.

The first stage of a tree’s life is infancy (like humans) and, like humans, is when they are the most vulnerable. Even though they will likely survive on their own (unlike humans), with some attention, they can truly thrive. I noticed that young saplings are wrapped for protection from harsh winds; and they are spaced to give them room to grow. This helps them establish themselves healthfully.

As they become more mature their branches (and trunks in particular) show their unique character.  And, like humans, is mostly a reflection of their early life’s influences and how they have managed in their environment. With a close look, we can see where they are strong and where they are vulnerable. We can piece together their stories of survival.

As they reach the prime of their lives these trees can take care of themselves. And, as they continue to age, sometimes more than hundreds of years, they may need some help.  The trees become more vulnerable to insects and disease; they need thinning out, and some protections. What I find amazing about olive trees is even when they are very old, and the trunk becomes gnarled and hollow, they can still bear and offer their fruit. Of course, I humans cannot do THAT, but in our old age we still have much to offer even when our trunks become a bit bent.  We have a lot to learn from olive trees.  Perhaps their longevity is because they are appreciated and nurtured in every stage of their lives.

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