There’s no I in forest

The importance of building our community

two trees, one with its roots wrapped around the base of the other

These are my favourite trees of all I have ever seen. And of the two, the sapling is my favourite because it represents the importance of community. This sapling got its start on a hill. As rain and weather shifted the soil, this tree anchored itself to something bigger and more stable. Considering how slowly trees grow, this sapling has been snaking its roots over the bigger tree over the years. It took 2-3 decades. How did it know its best survival chance lay in wrapping its roots around the bigger tree? Does the bigger tree mind?

Well, the bigger tree has no choice. It can’t just walk away and find another spot. For better or worse, the two trees are connected. They remind me of siblings: No matter how we feel about our siblings, we are connected.

I have three sisters, and at some point in our lives, we have been either the sapling or the bigger tree. The one to support or in need of it. We each have our strengths and weaknesses and know exactly who to turn to when needed. In Baz Luhrmann’s song, “Wear Sunscreen,” he says, “Be nice to your siblings; they’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.” Wise words, Baz. If you’re lucky and have a good relationship with your siblings, feel free to use this picture for their next birthday card. Maybe write, “I tried to root around for something original, but all I can say is, “Thanks for keeping me grounded.”

You’re welcome.

Whether we have siblings or not, we need a community that will stick by us.

Some of us have supportive and loving families we were born into that act as our community, or we create our supportive and loving families via our friendships or partners. So many of us have a hybrid: loving families and amazing friendships. The importance of building our community is as vital as having lots of trees in a forest. The more trees, the healthier the forest will be.

Trees know that they will thrive in a community, not just survive. And so, trees will send nutrients to sick trees through their roots; they will warn other trees of danger through scents they release because they understand that they cannot do it alone. Trees need other trees. Who will care for them if/when they get sick? Who will help break the impact of strong winds? There is strength in numbers, and trees understand this more than anyone.

I have noticed many trees growing on top or right beside each other. And as annoying as it may be for the more mature tree, they benefit from that connection, too.

Forests make me reflect more and more about the people who help me learn, grow and thrive.

I am an introvert and loooooove being alone, so I am the annoyed mature tree most of the time. But I know that it can be refreshing to connect with my people. People, who challenge me to think differently, make me laugh and won’t even bat an eye when I ask, “How many litres of blood are in the human body?”

I often think I would be happy on an island where no one needs me for anything, and I am free to be my introverted self, no one intertwining their roots with mine. But we need others. We need a community. And one of the most incredible things about getting older and wiser is: you can curate your community.

tree roots intertwined

You cannot change the community you were born into, but you can curate and expand it like forests.

Forests are constantly changing. The change happens slowly over decades, but the forest you see now will be a different forest 30 years from now. Some trees will be the OG trees which are the wise elders; others will be saplings still learning the rules of the forest. And many trees in between will fall along the way, clearing the path for more trees to grow.

Our communities are the same. The people who make up our community have grown with us since the beginning- the trees I consider the OG trees- who have weathered many storms and seen many seasons. Of course, there are few OG people in our community because only some relationships grow and evolve with us. And that’s normal. But those few who have, are incredibly special.

Others have put roots down a little later in your life but are here to stay. They may be the people you’ve found in high school or your first part-time job. The people you found at University or on the first day of your career. They may not share the status of OG, but they shared moments with you that no one else shared. And if you’re lucky, they will feel like OG trees.

Then, there are the saplings. The people you meet now as you’re growing more and more into who you want to be. Will they put down roots and stay a few decades? Maybe. Welcome them and nurture them anyways. You never know.

And then there are the seedlings, my favourite. They’re all fantastic people you haven’t met yet. They’re also the origin story of all your OG trees. The possibility of what seedlings will become, of who they will become to you and your community? Magic.

Find your people. Nurture those relationships. Build your community and grow your forest.

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