Yesterday afternoon I spent some time in the woods, clearing the path further down from my cabin, where it connects with our neighbor’s trail. Though I love the wildness of nature, maintaining these paths is a necessary bit of taming I impose upon wildness; without the paths, I lose access to the wild. Yearly growth is so prolific and urgent that the woods quickly become an impenetrable tangle of brambles and encroaching trees without my periodic pruning. Spring was starting to re-claim it, so I went in first with a weed whacker, mowing down the twiggy growth that was cropping up close to the ground. Then I took clippers to the woody saplings whose branches were beginning to arch into the path, their fronds reaching across the gap to touch an opposite branch, equally reaching. In places, large limbs or shattered fragments of trees had crashed across the path, and I hurled them like unwieldy javelins into the brush at either side.
Walking back along the newly cleared trail, I stumbled over a line of barbed wire that had succumbed to time, its sagging, rusted strand still attached to a crazily-tilted, rotting post. Tugging it with my leather-gloved hand, I found that it was not stray, but connected to another post further down the path. This relic, testament to some farmer’s hard work, setting posts, stringing wire, clamping it firmly with U nails, had held on, tenacious, refusing to completely surrender its grip on what was once pasture. But now, as Robert Frost said, there was nothing to keep in or to keep out, so I started clearing in a different way. This was freeing the woods from boundaries and restrictions that it alone couldn’t quite overcome even after years of effort. Rain had oxidized and rusted the wire, insects and vegetation had worked to infest and rot the posts, fallen trees had leaned their weight to drag both to the ground, but still it remained. I hastened what time could have eventually done at its slower pace: I clipped wire with my pruner, coiled and smashed it flat with my boots, hauled it in flattened piles out of the woods.
One point in my pruning, however, gave me pause. Between one span of wire, from post to post, grew a young tree, only two inches in diameter, but sturdy and straight, healthy with leaves and stretching into the sun. About waist high on its trunk, the barbed wire entered the tree, passed through it, and continued out the other side. At the points of entrance and exit, a thick calloused protrusion had knobbed out, perhaps the tree’s initial resistance to the wound, or its healing scab. Trees, however, are not like us humans. When we receive a wound, our bodies literally repair the damage, producing new cells, mending the skin. Our internal systems are completely renewed. When a tree is damaged, however, the most it can do is close the wound. Where the gash has occurred, the tree dies. A permanent scab forms to seal it from further damage, but the damage inflicted is permanent. That portion of the tree can no longer transmit or receive nutrients from the rest of the tree. If a tree receives enough blows, it dies. In this case, having received only that one barbed attack, the tree lived on, accommodating itself to the pain of the barbs bearing down against its flesh, enclosing the hurt within itself until eventually the pain was absorbed.
I clipped the wire free of the fence on either side of the tree, leaving the tree as a small cross, rusted wire extending out from both sides of the living tree. In so doing, I created an emblem–an Ebenezer to the complete healing we can receive through Christ. The cross–His pain, His wounding–leaves us whole, renewed, forever healed.
This tree will survive. It already has. I will watch it grow over the years until it grows to fence-crushing stature, until its trunk expands in diameter to fully encase those remaining wire barbs. It will outlive me here on earth, but I have an eternity it will never know.