Monday, April 16, 2012

The Understory...

Enchanted Forest Norfolk Botanical Garden photo: L.A.M.
Recently, while driving on I-95, I found myself delighted by the flashes of color in the woods.  Given a moment to look, it was the forest's diminutive beauties showing off their color for Spring--Lilacs, Dogwoods, Forsythia and a rainbow of Azaleas--These dainty hardwoods make up the Understory-- While petite, these trees are ready to put on a show.  Batting their figurative eyelashes and showing their curves, alluring birds, bees and people alike they say,

 "Venture into the woods to see us!"  
"Taste our nectar, bask in our fragrance---we are stunning."

The forest's towering grandfathers-- Oak, Maple and Beech-- are more discrete, they brush off the winter dust, distributing their seeds without fanfare.

Only in Spring does the understory have the spotlight. By May the winsome blossoms are long forgotten. The larger trees have taken center stage. We become unaware of the understory because it's mixed in the bramble.  But--even when we can't see it--it's there--existing, thriving, contributing. 

And isn't it interesting that we call these smaller trees, the Understory?  It's a very human label--not a scientific term. When we refer to a person's understory we say, "background, point of view, context, or details."  Whatever we are referring to, we are talking about something underneath the surface.

Here are the details of the relationship between the forest's towering canopy and the understory:

The giant trees are genetically engineered to grow up to 100 feet.  The smaller flowering trees and shrubs are only designed to be 10-15 feet tall.  In this way they are well suited to live together.

The ostentatious flowers of the understory trees attract the attention of the pollinators early.  They get all the sunlight they need to leaf out when the tall trees are still in bud.  They complete the business of pollination, and collect plenty of energy from the sun, before the larger tree's leaves appear.  At that point, the tall trees take most of the sunlight for their own photosynthetic process, but it's okay because the understory trees are satisfied and are enjoying the dappled shade that the giants provide.

In this way they are not competing for resources, they are existing together in harmony. Each tree-- the tall and the small-- fulfilling its intended destiny.

Without knowing the details however, we might not understand this relationship.

And so it's logical that if there is a background and a context to every forest, then there are details and stories to every human being.  Our current disposition is a result of our understory.  It's not an excuse, but it is an insight. We are responsible for what we do with what we have, but there is an understory, a place that we came from.  There are parts that we can't see yet, parts we don't not know about other people.

If we miss the forest's spring showcase, it may take a full year before we get a glimpse.  A forest can take a lifetime to display all it's secrets and its gems.  So it is with people. Be on the lookout for the understory. Be aware of its mystery, and its beauty.

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

1 comment:

  1. I love the way you describe and explain the timing and nurture of the "understory." Nature knows how to propagate itself in a perfect cycle. I love the colorful, descriptive adjectives you used in your narrative. I didn't realize how perfectly these trees live together in harmony. Then not only that, but it is so true that we have so much beauty in our "understories."There is so much that isn't obvious and our beauty ebbs and flows, but never fades on the inside. It only gets more beautiful, more full. Thanks for the beautiful narrative. I love it!!