Saturday, June 03, 2006

weed trees

There is a cottonwood tree growing in the park behind our fence. When we moved here in 1983 it was small and kind of cute. I actually thought it and the few alders beside it might be in our yard. But when we dug to find the property markers before putting up a fence, they were just outside.

At first we hardly noticed the clump of trees except that it gave a little welcome summer shade. But as time went on the trees grew and shaded our back yard to the extent it got hardly any afternoon sun at all. My garden didn't like that. The strawberries became few, small and sour. The peas got mildew. The tomatoes grew gangly and blighted. Finally in discouragement I gave up my vegetable garden altogether.

Then came the year those trees housed a thriving colony of tent caterpillars. Our neighbors got the city to take out a row of infested volunteer alders behind their property. But when we made the same request we came upon the intransigence that has characterized their reaction ever since: What!! Cut down trees?! NEVER! Not unless they endanger life and limb.

Over the years as the alders have weakened with age and split in the cold and wind, we’ve convinced the powers-that-be they are a danger. One by one those weed trees have been removed. But the cottonwood remains.

Today it towers over the fence, its limbs leaning greedily omtp our yard. By now I’ve adapted my garden so that it’s full of hostas, impatiens and other shade-loving plants. And though each season we have to deal with the tree’s litter of cotton sticks in the spring and leaves in the fall, we can handle that. It’s the roots that are the issue now.

I can’t dig a foot down into the garden without encountering their ropy network. And they’re not only under the garden but under the entire lawn. Numerous times each summer we’ve found leaves sprouting from root nodes that poke through the lawn. When these are dug out they leave long scars in the grass. This week Ernie pulled out another. It was about five feet in length, three inches in diameter at widest and came within about a yard of the house's foundation.

The tree that started out so small and innocent-looking and now would take over our yard if we let it, reminds me of the sins of the self-life. A little pride, a little jealousy, a few hurt feelings, a small grudge, a bit of complaining, the odd lustful thought. Aren’t these natural? Just part of being human? Certainly not very threatening,

But any one of these things can take over and get so big that, like I changed what I put in my garden, we alter the way we live to accommodate them (look for ways to promote ourselves, avoid or not talk to certain people, snub others or put them down, cultivate friendships with negative people, dwell on thoughts of revenge, etc.). And still they grow, till they threaten the very foundation of life with neurosis, physical illness, broken relationships, addiction and financial ruin.

I wish there had been a way to deal with that weed cottonwood tree back when it was a sapling. There wasn’t and now we have no choice but to be watchful so that we limit the damage it causes. However, it’s possible with God’s help to deal more effectively with sin. The Holy Spirit and the Bible can help us identify it. Then we need to deal with it in the sapling stage, before its roots weave their network through our lives and threaten our very foundations


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