The Roots Beneath Me

I’m thinking about the walks I started taking last spring, ones that have now become a regular part of my life. I didn’t used to understand walking; I ran track in high school. It felt silly to go for a walk, like there wasn’t a purpose or a goal.  

When I ran, I loved hearing the loud pounding in my chest, the strongest and most obvious sign that we are alive. 

Do I love the actual act of running? Not really. But I do love the way I feel after running and knowing how far and fast my legs can carry me.  

When the world seemed to stop turning last year, I didn’t have the energy to run as much. So, I walked. I walked and I listened to podcasts or music or sometimes just the stillness around me. And I realized all the things I am missing when I’m running.  

When I walk, I can really feel the sun on my cheeks. I notice the tiniest buds on the trees in the park. I can fully feel the fresh air pump in and out of my lungs. Unlike a racing heart, these things are gentle reminders of the ways we feel alive.  

I walk past the same tree each day I walk, and I can’t help but admire it. From a distance, this tree is nothing special—small in stature, a little bent and hunched over. But up close, you can see the real strength, the thing that keeps this tree grounded. 

Intricate tree roots in the ground.

The roots grow wider than the trunk and the branches, growing on top of the earth so everyone walking by can notice the intricate swirls and curves. Its zentangle-like pattern doesn’t just grow wide; it grows far. Cracks and bumps and ridges have formed in the sidewalk path where the roots kept growing, refusing to stop its path for one paved by man.  

Some believe tree roots only grow as far and wide as their canopy, but the reality is that they will reach as far as they can in search of water and nutrients. And trees standing together in forests send roots beyond their limbs and intertwine with neighboring trees. But sometimes they intertwine with things that will eventually kill them, into toxic soil or fungi or man-made structures that lead to total tree removal. 

Tree roots don’t just stop growing in different seasons when the ground becomes frozen and hard, or even when we cut them down and think them to be dead. The roots just keep growing, even if it’s only a bit at a time. Some roots grow years after being cut down, clinging to life and looking for something to sustain it. 

I want to be like the tree roots. I want to grow despite the slabs of concrete in front of me, despite feeling frozen, despite being cut down.  

I think a lot of people cut themselves down to try to stop the growth because sometimes growth can be painful, especially if you are intertwined with something that will kill you. Untangling your roots is unpleasant, but turning yourself into a stump doesn’t quite make you free. Life can always grow again as long as the roots remain. 

I want to stretch and weave and intertwine my story with so many others, so that from a bird’s eye view, you can see all the ways we connected without hindering the path we forged for ourselves.  

In so many ways, I am already like these roots. I grow slowly, but steady for sure. My legs carry me far and wide. Even if I’m not running as fast as I can anymore, I can still feel that pounding. The breeze around me and the sun above me reminds me I am growing no matter where I am planted.  

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