Several years ago, my husband and I built a home in the mountains of North Carolina. We made every effort to fit into the landscape with materials native to the terrain and kept other crucial vegetation from being knocked down. Maple and sweetgum trees fill the front yard, turning a magnificent red in the cool temperatures of autumn; oaks and chinquapins with tall branches where the squirrels do their daily dance. The back of our home sits atop a mountain cliff, having placed it as close to the edge as safety would allow.
We Found Black Bears in Our Yard, and They Made a Statement
We didn’t know when we chose the land and laid out the building site that we had intruded on another’s territory. The well-worn path at the base of the back of our home was lined with mountain laurel that had a purpose for the black bear population. It was their road from one mountain top to another. They had traversed this path for years uninterrupted—that is, until we brought the first bulldozer in.
Our tile installer sent us the first images of the bears wandering around our building site, followed by many other crew sightings. They didn’t bother anyone if we didn’t bother them. But after we moved in and planted the landscaping to complete the finished work of our home, they made their presence known.
The bushes and flowers didn’t seem to bother them. But the trees? They shared their feelings of disapproval loud and clear by first removing a few 6-to-8-foot trees. We don’t know to where. Three trees remained, yet they were attacked repeatedly. I didn’t yet realize that from watching this challenge, life lessons would be on display.
One has been laid prone in front of our bathroom window countless times. Two more trees were broken in half by these relentless creatures. Sections were missing, and the treetops were carried off to the tree graveyard they had created (that we still cannot find).
What I find fascinating is the three trees that we keep trying to save have responded differently to the bears’ attacks.
Our Trees Have Taken a Beating, but They Always Come Back Stronger
Each time we set the fallen tree upright to stake it back, it grows another branch. It is now 9 feet tall, no more than 3 feet in diameter, and barren in entire sections seeing nothing but the trunk. Yet, every time we pull it back to its full height, it stands tall, working to develop life from the abuse it takes. And each season of being left alone, it does.
The tree that’s repeatedly broken in half has decided to become a thriving bush. It grows slightly more elevated and significantly more expansive after each confrontation. The bears can no longer knock it down to lie on its side; they uproot it to become the leaning half tree of the mountains. Each time we tilt it back into place, this piece of God’s creation determines it will just add another three inches to the length of its branches. It seems in defiance, stating, “I will spread out so you can only bend me so far.”
The last, and what I consider the most courageous tree, has determined it will be a tree, no matter what the bears say! The day this evergreen was broken literally in half it was 8 feet high, 5 feet in diameter, rich in color, healthy, and strong. I looked out the window to see that this beauty at the end of our driveway had become half the tree it was the day before. While not being bent, the entire top half was gone.
I trimmed it, fed it as I did all the others, then left it to recover as it would. Six months went by when I noticed a top branch turning toward the sky. A second branch followed suit; then, within a year, this tree stood tall again. It is apparent to no one, except us who know of the damage, that a bear had ever broken it. The branches were topping the tree with the beautiful point that any Christmas star would be proud to be placed upon. It seemed to say, “No matter how hard I’m hit, I am going to be strong and proud, for I am a tree.”
Each of these trees inspires me. Each one has taken the blows they have received and made something new. Their determination and commitment to life, even when beaten and knocked down, is worth emulating.
No matter how hard I’m hit, I am going to be strong and proud.
Even After Being Knocked Down, We Too Can Prevail
We are no different. Unknown or unexpected attackers will hit us in this life. They can come in the form of health challenges, heartbreak in relationships, loss of jobs, or financial difficulties. While they hurt and cause harm, we have choices in how we respond after the attack.
Like the tree that gets knocked down, we often need help to stand again. We might need some assistance from others because we can’t do it on our own. But we must seek that help, embrace it, and allow it into our lives. Then, after being put aright again, you will discover within you the ability to bring life. There will be hope that new growth can and will take place, albeit slowly, with focus and determination, by nurturing the often small but real life that still lies within you.
When you find you can’t be what you were before, become something new, like the second tree finding its strength as a bush. It may not seem as impressive or magnificent as a tree, but that’s not true. It has a steadfastness that the other trees don’t. It now can withstand the subsequent hits and not be knocked down when the hits come. Easily set upright again to grow stronger, protecting the bushes around it. Coverage for the delicate flowers below it; maybe to suffer hurt, but never defeat.
The last tree tells us to stand tall. To never give up. To face with courage whatever befalls, confident in who we are. Defying the challenges we face, and rise to say, “You may attack, but you will not win.”
Life Lessons Learned in an Unexpected Way
I didn’t expect to face a population of bears that had so many opinions on my choices. Nor did I think they would offer a battleground for both me and my brave trees to fight on. But I’m glad they did. Yes, I delight in seeing the bears walk their path that I interrupted. The strength and grace they portray. The solo males with their power evident in every step. The mothers with their cubs. We know that they are the fiercest taking a wide berth, understanding their protective nature will prevail.
Now I know my naïveté didn’t understand they could threaten the landscaping I was installing, attacking randomly. Instead, by the very nature of both the bears and my precious trees, I learned more about life. Like the three trees determined to survive, we can prevail. It may look different for each individual or with each attack, but prevail we will. New life will come if we don’t give up, new growth when we don’t give in.
Hear the story of one woman who was repeatedly hit by the storms of life, but determined to stand again: This Grit and Grace Life Podcast: Why Strong Women Can (and Should) Rebuild Their Lives with Molly Stillman – 125