A Community of Trees

My relationship with trees is complicated.

Having grown up on the plains of North Dakota, I find comfort in the stark beauty of a treeless prairie affording long panoramic views of wide open land and skies.  When visiting my husband’s childhood home, I tease “Tennessee could probably be pretty if it wasn’t so cluttered up with all these trees!”  But, then again, there’s no place I’d rather hike than a deciduous woodland on the cusp of autumn.North Dakota Small

My hard-working dad’s go-to “if you don’t have anything better to do…” line often ended with a strong suggestion to tend to the fledgling wind row of trees we’d planted – whose never-ending needs supplied endless hours of watering and weeding.  Somehow this grew in me a fascination with trees, evidenced by countless photos of exposed root systems, lone imperfect trees, forests of colors, and individual leaves both thriving and fallen.

Passages containing tree symbolism describe the richness of the life I want (Psalms 1 and 92, Jeremiah 17, Colossians 2, Ezekiel 47, John 15).  The image I most often pray for our children is rooted in Isaiah 61’s “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Simply put, although the presence of trees in my childhood landscape was lacking, the imagery of trees permeate my understanding of life.

Any study about trees, pruning, or forest ecosystems captures my attention. So, let me share the wonder of mycorrhizal networks with you. Forests were once considered a group of individual trees within the same environment, functioning independently and competing for resources. However, the fascinating reality is forests are complex interconnected communities, sharing resources and helping one another survive.

Microscopic fungi interface with tree root systems, connecting tree to tree, building a relational mycorrhizal network below the forest floor. A complex system of links and passages with the capability of moving resources from tree to tree builds resilience and health among the forest community. Carbon, nitrogen, water, defense compounds – whatever a tree might need – are shuffled from a tree with plenty to a tree with lack. An example is the transfer of carbon from trees with optimal light conditions to plants located in the shaded forest canopy where limited light availability impedes photosynthesis. In other words, trees help each other thrive by sharing what they have.

Through this network, older trees, with their many connections, breathe life into a new generation. Individuals give back to the community, transferring nourishment through bridged pathways in their root systems. The network helps seedlings overcome the harsh environmental factors which threaten their growth into mature plants. The network preserves diversity of species, building resilience and ability to withstand traumatic events. The network moves a group of trees from competition and hoarding to a place of engagement and generosity. I told you it was fascinating!

I could go on, but you see where I’m going.  You and I are trees in this forest of kingdom work.  Each holding a place, some resource-rich, some depleted, others planted in less favorable conditions.  Velvet Ashes can be those “soil micro-organisms”, creating interconnections, helping each to survive adverse conditions and providing what’s missing in our own environments.  A “guild of mutual aid”, as one researcher describes forest mycorrhizal networks.

I don’t recall ever desiring to be a microscopic fungus before, but a longing is growing to be part of that network of connection.  How about you?  Are you in?




  1. Danielle Wheeler November 14, 2013

    Patty, I just want you to keep talking! I’ll just sit here and keep learning. 🙂

    I’ll never look at a forest the same way again. Can you imagine what it would look like if we stepped away from our tendency to compete, and instead gave to each other?? May it be so of us here at VA!

    1. Patty November 13, 2013

      Ahhh, yes, what a beautiful world it would be to push aside our pride, insecurities, and competition and be to one another light, nourishment, kindness, hope, healing. And VA is a very good place to start!

  2. Lisa Ingle November 13, 2013

    Patty and Danielle,

    Ladies, I love the words you both chose to express your hearts! Patty, I share your love for trees, and foliage in general and thank you for beautifully expressing your heart’s desire for this community…love, hope, kindness, nourishment. I want to go paint a tree, except I can’t paint! 🙂 Danielle, I echo your yearning for our community to be devoid of competition and filled with love…to be life-giving. I’m in!

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Lisa, thank you for your encouragement! And thank you for the way you nurture others. You are definitely one of those “trees” whose roots go deep!

  3. Jennifer Taylor November 14, 2013

    I am in! Blessed to know that we really truly do not stand alone and that whether we see it or not, accept it or not, we really can not ever hope to reach our full potential, become all that we are meant to be, without each other. We are not alone!

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Jennifer, warmly welcome! I love that thought that we can not hope to reach our full potential without each other. So glad you are in this with us!

  4. Morielle November 14, 2013

    Dude, I am so stoked to have the chance to consider myself a figurative fungus. I also couldn’t help reading this and thinking of myself as a young tree who’s never felt more alone in her life, so incredibly grateful for the chance to receive nutrients from others. As Jennifer says, we are not truly alone, whether we see it or not.
    I also had lots of fun reading through your list of biblical trees. Especially Jeremiah 17:5-10, which I’m now working on memorizing.

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Morielle, I am so impressed with your initiative – you won’t regret investing in memorizing that life-giving passage. And you are definitely not alone! Welcome to the Order of Figurative Fungi. 🙂

      1. Chris Ortiz November 14, 2013

        <3 the Order of Figurative Fungi! ; )

  5. Kimberly Todd November 14, 2013

    I’m in, too. Patty, this is such a lovely image elegantly and intelligently articulated.

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Thank you, dear Kim! We are in good company with you in our neck of the woods.

  6. Paula Robb November 14, 2013

    Ummm, could you explain that mycorrhizal network in more detail, please? It sounds amazingly complicated, but cool! And I’m eternally IN!!!

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Come by for coffee and we’ll have a nice long chat about mycorrhizal networks, Paula! So glad you are part of my root system!

  7. Joan Martin November 14, 2013

    Although I did n

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Hey Joan, I’m thinking about times we were Pictionary partners and could guess what the other was drawing from a few little lines and squiggles. So, right now I’m trying to guess what you were writing but I’m stumped. But if you add a few more words, I might get it. 🙂 Love you!

  8. Chris Ortiz November 14, 2013

    I’m in! thanks, Patty! not feeling very creative at the moment, recovering from minor but important gyn surgery yesterday, but will comment when I am feeling more reflective: have to get ready to take on the trees, hopefully mot losing them in the forest that is my life! Hugs all!

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Chris, it’s wonderful to see you here! So sorry about your surgery. We’ll be praying for a quick recovery. Love your “tree talk”!

  9. Denise November 14, 2013

    Connection is so needed. I am in. I love the picture of a forest is much more than just the trees. Yet everything is connected and needed to thrive. What a great picture of living well together. Thanks Patty!

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Connection, thriving, living well together – YES! So glad to know you are in!

  10. Amy Young November 14, 2013

    Patty, do you remember the illustration I used of trying to pull up some mint in my folks garden and realizing that all of the dang mint was connected to each other by these incredibly strong roots that seemed to go on forever.

    What was annoying in mint is endearing in human relationships.

    1. Patty November 14, 2013

      Amy, that evokes an image of discouragement, despair, disillusionment trying to yank one of us out of the garden and the rest of us hanging on for dear life and refusing to let go!

      1. Amy young November 14, 2013

        Not meant to be discouraging 🙂 but it IS true that what happens to one of us does impact more than just that one person 🙂

        1. Morielle November 14, 2013

          In fact, I find that image really encouraging. When one of us is being tugged away from the Lord, our brothers and sisters hold on tight, they stick to us, their love refuses to let go. Just my reaction to the image… 🙂

          1. Patty November 15, 2013

            Thanks, Morielle, for expressing that more clearly than I did!

  11. Carolyn November 15, 2013

    totally fascinating! When we do we get to read your book, Patty? I’ve been wondering that for 10 years, ever since I first joined your part of the forest there at the Mac Center for that never-to-be-forgotten best-year-of-my-life… so glad to be part of this worldwide – what was it again? Mycrohizzal thingamabobby?

    1. Patty November 15, 2013

      Carolyn, my favorite aspect of Velvet Ashes so far just might be that it has reconnected us! You will always be loved by me! So glad to know that love can flow through the “Mycrohizzal thingamabobby” through time and distance!

  12. Mary November 15, 2013

    I love all the sharing and feelings of being connected. I spend most of my weeks riding in the semi with my husband and though I have some close friends there is little time to connect. I love thinking of being a part of a community of women where I can be known, even though I unknown.
    Thanks Pattie for sharing the information about the trees. As I look at the forests we pass through now I will think about this and feel connected to all of those in the body of Christ.

    1. Patty November 15, 2013

      Mary, welcome to this place of connectedness!

  13. Jessica Hoover November 15, 2013

    What amazing imagery! I love being fancy fungus! This was a really great, thought provoking and insightful read! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Patty November 15, 2013

      Thank you, Jessica, for your encouragement. I feel like your fancy fungus just sent a shot of love to my fancy fungus!

  14. Kristi November 16, 2013

    Never thought I’d ever say this but, I want to be a fungus! This picture and the implications are both challenging and beautiful. It’s difficult to imagine being part of something so complex yet so personal. Your words and the images they evoke will give me something to ponder. Thanks you.

    1. Patty Stallings November 17, 2013

      Kristi, I’m hoping a poem erupts from you about it! 🙂

  15. Kristi November 17, 2013

    Okay, Patty,

    As the leaves rustle they seem to whisper, “Come,
    Sink your roots
    Are you a spruce?
    Share your hope
    In winter’s frigid darkness
    You are ever-green
    Are you an oak?
    Lend us your strength
    During the floods of spring
    You are firmly rooted in Truth
    Are you an elm?
    Spread your canopy over us
    During the heat of a summer’s day
    You are our protector
    Are you a maple?
    Grace us with glory
    During the clear crisp days of autumn
    You are pleased with change
    Are you a willow?
    Soothe our weeping
    During seasons of sorrow for
    You have wept too
    Bright cherry with your delicate blossoms
    Bring delight to our days
    Chestnut and hickory
    Your nuttiness brings laughter
    Sink your roots
    We need you.”

    1. Patty Stallings November 17, 2013


      1. Kristi November 17, 2013

        Well, I’m a bit amazed myself. I was definitely not the source of that just the channel. Glad you like it.

      2. Danielle Wheeler November 17, 2013

        Equally amazed over here. What a gift, Kristi! Absolutely beautiful.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.