ERROL CASTENS: Woods walk a different kind of botany lesson

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

This time of year, the cooler weather, the changing colors and some instinctive need to be alone combine forces to compel us to the wood.
Together they constitute another of God’s ways of saying, “Come; see what I have done for my glory and your delight and comfort.”
• Squirrels’ playful antics while storing food for winter reminds us to take our own work seriously but not somberly.
• It takes a special talent to appreciate the beauty of the gnarled and knotty blackjack oak tree.
When it has been laboriously cut, split and dried, though, it makes a roaring fire that anyone can admire.
• Low-to-the-horizon sun shining through poison ivy’s crimson collage seems verification enough of Romans 8:28’s assurance, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good … .”
• Some plants seem utterly out of their element in the woods – tufts of grass in a dense shade, for instance – and yet defy all the experts’ opinions by thriving.
• Saplings that get entangled early in their lives by certain woodland vines may bear their scars for decades, but year after year God essentially whispers to the trees, “Keep growing,” and their very endurance inevitably breaks those bonds.
• On the other hand, for some problems, a toehold is a chokehold. Kudzu, privet, cogongrass and some other invaders can take over whole woodland neighborhoods, turning them into a botanical version of urban blight.
Reversing their effects, like many a human failure, is generations-long work.
• A fogbound lake on a cool morning reminds us that when we can’t see across the way, God still knows what lies on the other side.
• Nearly 20 years after the fact, the 1994 ice storm offers many a metaphor. Some trees were literally broken in half, tops bent irreparably to the ground, and instead of giving up, those broken trunks sprouted new growths that became skyward-reaching trees in their own right.
Some trees were permanently bent but not broken. Others were destroyed straightway. Most looked war-wearied for a while but eventually lost all visible signs of their trauma.
• Trees in the shade of others will either grow straight and vigorously in their quest for sunlight, or they will settle for being forever stunted.
• Wagon tracks worn through a wood or a meadow 100 years ago remind us that we, too, will leave lasting marks in this world.
Whether those marks serve as a trustworthy path or become mere erosive gashes in the earth’s surface depends on the wisdom with which we live.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at

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