The River Birch Resolution


Friday – December 16

As I gaze out my sitting room window I see the winter expression of Sue’s green thumb. The freeform flower beds display the dormant phase of coming spring glory. Even in this brown, quiet time they raise anticipation for the promise of coming attractions.

In the center of the flower beds stands a mighty River Birch (betula nigra) also referred to as the Water Birch or Dark Birch. This particular tree was on the original landscaping invoice when we built our home nearly 25 years ago. We had come to enjoy the birch trees at Sue’s parent’s home and wanted to include them in our plans as a way to remember them.

The River Birch has characteristics different from the popular White Birch (betula papyrifera) which you will also find among her gardens. The most notable difference, at least for the person doing the yard work, is the way the River Birch is self pruning. It freely sheds its worn out, tired, dying branches (usually just twigs) to make room for new growth.

As we enter the perennial year-end zone of self-reflection there may be a lesson in this ruggedly elegant tree.

The River Birch is deliberate about becoming. It is self pruning. It doesn’t hold on to its branches without some consideration for the greater good. It continues to grow through the pruning process.

Could it be a worthy approach to our annual ritual of introspection to not pile on with the new things we will add to our lives – exercise, budget controls, a new diet, or a new meditation plan. But rather, like the River Birch, if we intend to grow, that we first let go of those dying, worn out things that are comfortably familiar but that retard personal growth. Instead of adding on the new, consider self pruning through a continual process of determining what growth-retarding offshoots, what unproductive branches of my past should be dropped by the way? And just like the River Birch, the strong branches will flourish and new growth will begin. What branches need to go? What strengths need to flourish?

My view today is of a barren tree in its winter introspection but I know a vibrant spring renewal is coming. I know as well that the River Birch stands proudly as one of the tallest and strongest of the birch family. Here’s to new growth the coming year.


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