Aging Like a Conifer

‘Let me grow lovely, growing old”

is a poem by Karle Wilson Baker, which I’m not sure I can reprint because I’m not sure it’s public domain. (Prudes thrive on assessing and evaluating each potential action they might take, then searching for laws that could prohibit such action.)

The poem goes on to extol other beautiful, fine old things, like lace. Trees make the list.

Oak trees grow lovely, sure.SONY DSCMaples? You bet.

The venerable weeping willow droops gracefully as she sheds her final tears. SONY DSC

Elms, even those untidy, drop-their-messes-everywhere mountain ashes—

hardwoods wear their age well.






The leaves these old deciduous trees dropped the previous autumn might not all be replaced in the spring. Come late summer, their scant leaves fade into fall hues even as their younger compatriots still flaunt green foliage.SONY DSC

But sparser leaf covering serves only to accentuate the splendid outlines of these trees.

There is dignity in the gnarled, scarred trunks.

Branches, some of them more fragile now, still extend with grace and beauty. More of the basic structure is being revealed, and it is beautiful.

The deciduous tree is stately.

Its oldness has a fine quality.

Even the most elderly of these, naked and alone, can provide a perch for the majestic bald eagle.

SONY DSCWhat about the aging conifer?

With the exception of the giant redwood, maybe the grand cedars of Lebanon, very few elderly needle-producing, cone-bearing softwoods inspire poets.

SONY DSCA spruce, on exiting middle age, gets all prickly and irritable and begins to drop things.

The ancient fir suddenly realizes he is more bark than bite.

Pines fight a losing battle with needles turning from verdant green to unattractive rust.

Or worse, the needles fall out, never to return.


Think ‘Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.’


The tall conifer looks over its shoulder one day and realizes it has developed a distinct dowager’s hump.SONY DSC

Your yew (just let that phrase roll off your tongue), along with cousins cypress and hemlock, realize they are getting bald and spindly.

And the lowly arborvitae is just a bedraggled mass of sepia-colored scales drooping from veiny branches.


Brittle needles.

Unnatural color.

Unattractive veins and spindly shanks and drooping limbs.

That’s how a conifer ages.



Some of us, as we wend our way through mid-middle age, mature like hardwood deciduous trees.

Fine, elegant, stately.

And some of us, as we approach our pre-old age years, can’t help but notice we are getting scaly and droopy and rusty and prickly.

None of us have total control over how we’ll age.

It’s built into our DNA.

Plant an acorn and an oak grows.

Plant a scale-covered seed and you get a conifer.

Oak trees, maple trees, birch—they grow lovely, growing old.

Conifers just . . . grow old.

But little birds lighting on the numerous exposed branches of an old conifer don’t care what it looks like.

Their unlovely tree provides rest and shelter and doesn’t mind being swarmed with small bodies as long as the little ones don’t take the prickliness personally.

Old oaks, ancient maples, venerable elms, grizzled birches—still delight the senses with their beauty.

But the  sparrows in the branches of an aging conifer don’t care about dropping needles or sagging limbs or spidery veins.

Like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, the conifer might not have grown lovely, growing old,

but it has grown love.

Bless the Bandaid Solutions

SONY DSCLuxury items for those of us growing up in the 1960’s are today considered basic human rights. Cameras weren’t all pricey, but film and flash bulbs could be.
Languishing in drawers of many 60’s and 70’s households were rolls and rolls of undeveloped film, waiting till the photographer garnered enough cash to bring them to the Fotomat.
Long distance calling and pay phones meant keeping one eye on the second hand of the clock and the other on a pitiful pile of disposable income.
Today your average tween can call practically anywhere in the world as long as they stay within their parents’ minutes plan.
And they have 10 thousand photos on their phones and twice that many on their facebook pages.
You know what else your average unemployed anybody has access to?

Those pinkish strips of adhesive were the crucible of wealth when I was a child. Could my friend afford a bandage on a minor scrape or bump? They must be rich.
I, on the other hand, child of a genteelly impoverished private school teacher, was always told I didn’t need a bandaid.
They were expensive.
They wouldn’t make the injury better anyway.
It just needed to be cleaned well.
This meant sanitizing it with whatever in the medicine cabinet was labelled ‘Causes Unbearable Stinging Sensation.’
Then we engaged in something called ‘letting the air at it.’

But I wanted a bandage. I wanted my dad to attain sudden wealth so we could have unlimited access to Bandaids.
Not because putting a strip of padded rubbery stuff on a scratch was a status symbol.
I was too young to care.
That bandage felt like a small hug.
It relieved some pain, no matter how my thrifty, cash-strapped parents scoffed at the notion.
The wound felt safe and protected.

Bandaid solutions to major problems in the 21st century, issues ranging from obesity in overdeveloped countries to famine in third-world nations, are scoffed at.
They don’t fix the problem, we hear.
They just cover it up.
A bandaid fix serves no purpose but to ignore the festering problem.

But maybe bandaids, used with common sense, do serve a purpose when dealing with these and other issues of enormity.

Some of us feel smug when we recycle our plastic bottles.
We are saving the environment!
But we really have no idea what other resources are being used to recycle that plastic, or how much if it is ending up in landfills anyway.
Our pretty recycling bandage might hide a spreading mess that we can’t cover with an entire pharmacy of wraps and bindings.

How about the old momism that is so derided?
‘Eat your vegetables. There are starving children in the world.”
And us smart aleck offspring respond, “Fine. Let’s send my creamed asparagus to them.”

This bandage not only doesn’t solve world hunger, people say.
It creates another issue—obesity—among the ‘clean plate club.’
Maybe, though, Mom was on to something.
That bandaid was decorated with little truths:
Be grateful for what you have.
You don’t deserve it so don’t waste it as if you do.
When we appreciate the wonderful gift food is, could we resist the temptation to gorge ourselves?
Could the reproachful eyes of that starving child swim up before us, reminding us that wasting, either by tossing or overindulging, is akin to stealing?

Maybe that same appreciation of physical blessings will open our eyes to blatant consumerism. We’ll focus not so much on recycling as doing what our ancestors did:
making do with what we’ve got.
Reusing and repurposing and being thrifty and not buying what we don’t need will help clean up the messy ulcerated miasma of rubbish, with a little help from the protective bandage of recycling.

Do you throw coins in a homeless person’s cup because you saw some youtube video where everyone walked past disguised family members without recognizing them?
You might be doing worse than putting on a bandaid.
You might be pouring acid on their wound.
Some of my friends, however, started with that ‘toss in a dollar’ quick-fix mentality, but didn’t stay there.
They began living and moving among the homeless, seeing them as fellow travelers instead of causes.
They aren’t eradicating the problem of homelessness or mental illness or addiction.
They know they aren’t God.
But after the feel-good bandage came off they realized we are all messed up.
We aren’t put here to fix everyone.
We are to treat everyone with dignity and wisdom and love.
I am a zealous defender of Bandaid Solutions but that doesn’t mean we should rely on them solely.
They can make us feel good and secure for awhile, but put one on an area of the body we don’t see much, like the calf or the back of the arm, and it can languish, forgotten, while the dog bite or stab wound it covers becomes infected.
Twittering ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ made a whole host of people feel like they were doing something noble when Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped.
They were changing the world, one tweet at a time.
But we’ve sort of forgotten those girls.
No one recently has posted ‘Bring back our girls. Or else.’
The kidnappers pay no attention to what we over here twitter during our extensive free time.
They are too busy strapping explosives on the girls to use as unwilling suicide bombers, lambs driven to slaughter of themselves and other unwilling victims.
We either get bored of a good cause too quickly, or realize the powerlessness, even of a million tweets, to change the minds of fanatics.
That twitter bandage, though, might raise some awareness of girls being misused in our own neighborhoods.
It might make us see how children are manipulated by the media or advertising or individuals or organizations to achieve goals that have nothing to do with the welfare of that child.
They are only the sacrificial lambs to further the agenda of whoever is using them.
Maybe we’ll protest not only with clever little signs but with our actions and our checkbooks.

Protesting war—any war—seldom accomplishes anything.
Governments don’t care if you disrupt traffic while carrying placards.
Especially governments who don’t like your country to begin with.
But if, while you engage in the futile effort against violence, someone rudely rams into you, you might think twice before bringing your ‘PEACE AT ALL COSTS’ sign down on the offender’s noggin.

Here’s the thing about bandaids.
They don’t stop further hurts and wounds.
They don’t make present damage disappear immediately.
But that protection, that relief from pain, albeit temporary, can have some surprising results.
We want to do whatever minor fixes we can to help relieve the hurts of others.
It helps us remember that temporary remedies are great, as long as the underlying injury can be dealt with.
And those monumental wounds, the ones no amount of adhesive and germ killer can cover,
force us to our knees before the only One who really brings temporal and eternal healing.