Tree Growth: A Metaphor For Our Lives

By Bridger Jensen, Therapist

Each morning, our newly-arrived Nalu and Kuleana adolescent students and staff travel from our sleeping quarters up the mountainside of the great volcano Mauna Kea. The short trip to our day camp is performed in silence to aid in self-reflection. From these historic, rolling hills through which we travel, sugar cane was once harvested, and constituted the majority of Big Island export. It is here, in the shadow of Mauna Loa, that our students spend their first few weeks. They reflect from a 1,200 foot-high vantage point over crashing waves, as the sun rises over Pacific Quest.  It is spectacular.

The magnificent hillside itself has therapeutic value for us as well. Majestic trees along the route have been sculpted by the near-constant trade winds blowing through them. Consistent winds push each branch and bud as they grow. Each leaf produced must adapt to the windy environment, or be absconded from the tree and carried away by the wind. The tree trunks grow accordingly to support the burdened branches. Thus, the hillside itself has become an excellent source of natural metaphors. Students often mention these windswept trees as a metaphor for their own growth.

As the students and employees learn about and teach horticulture in our gardens, we learn how plants grow intentionally and sustainably. Each seed planted grows to reach sunlight if needed, or even to face away from the sun if it must shade itself. In dry locations, a seedling may grow roots with the purpose of reaching water, while on a riverbank a plant may grow to stabilize itself as the ground beneath it erodes away. In therapeutic settings, students often talk about “Hehu stories.”

These Hehu stories are the stories of what shaped our lives. Like the windswept trees we pass by every morning, we each have stories about what shaped our lives. Were we depraved of nutrition like a seedling that grows in craggy rocks? Were we forced to struggle for each ray of sunlight like a seedling that grows on a dark forest floor? Perhaps our roots and branches languished, due to less-than-optimal resources? Or maybe we can liken ourselves to a healthy tree that has recently been damaged by a traumatic hurricane? Perhaps excessive pruning from our well-meaning caretaker stunted our growth? As we talk about our Hehu stories, students bring up the trees they pass by each morning. Often relating to the wind-sculpted tree that knows only how to grow with the wind.

There are so many variables that sculpt the beings we become, perhaps too many to account for. Some variables appear environmental, some internal. While we can’t completely control the environment that we grow in, we can choose to grow in our environment. Life events are opportunities to grow uniquely, resiliently and with strength. Like trees, we need the right conditions to grow and we will flourish, even amidst adversity, and sometimes because of adversity. Truly, trials beautify and strengthen us when care is given to our growth.

For some fun and interesting trees and Hehu stories, check out the links below:–the-crazy-tree-guy-saves-a-legacy-of-gettysburg