Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
On the day Rita arrived, I made one last survey of my tree farm. I wondered how different it would all look after today. A tree farm is an area where you grow pines for later harvest. In our area there are thousands of acres of pine forest. Large timber companies own most of it but private landowners own smaller tracts.
My tree farm is small by comparison. I have about fifteen acres in slash pines ranging from four to seven years old. It may be a small stand in comparison but I have tenderly cared for my pines. I’ve bushogged among them, killed the invading tallow trees, and faithfully plowed around the perimeter yearly to protect them from fire.
My fear has always been damage from a storm. Slash pines grow fast and make good trees but have a weakness at a young age if they encounter an ice storm or hurricane. My trees are just at the most susceptible size for wind damage. I worry that most will be damaged or broken after tonight.
On Saturday morning, I drive to my house from the camp. The storm, although abating somewhat, is still in full swing as large trees at the camp continue to topple over. In spite of the weather, I’ve got to go check on my tree farm.
There is one section where the trees are smallest. These rows of six-foot pines are about three years old. Sadly, many of them are bent over. All are leaning toward the northwest giving silent testimony to the ferocity of the hurricane force southeast winds that battered Dry Creek during the night.
Happily, the larger rows of trees that represent most of my tree farm seemed to have come through the storm well. Some are leaning and others have broken off wherever there was a weak spot, but overall, they are fine. However, most of the trees in the smaller section look beyond help. I imagine they’ll need to be cut due to their future lack of straight tall growth.
Two weeks after Rita, State Forester Paul Frey came to speak in DeRidder. It is pretty interesting what he shared about timber damage from Rita. After relating that Calcasieu Parish suffered fifty percent timber loss and our Parish of Beauregard had twenty percent loss, he wisely added, “I urge you timber owners to not give up on trees that may be leaning but are still firmly rooted. Don’t give up on them. From previous history and previous experience, they will eventually straighten back out. You don’t want to give up on 18 years of growth and lose the investment.”
Paul Frey’s words: “18 years…of growth…don’t give up…lose that investment…they will straighten up if that root system is still firm and rooted.”
All of a sudden, I wasn’t thinking about pine trees and hurricane force winds. I was thinking about teenagers. All of my life in several careers I’ve done one thing: I’ve worked with teenagers. First as a teacher and coach, later as a school principal, then as administrator of a church youth camp where teenagers come through by the thousands.
I’ve seen my share of leaning teens, I mean trees. No, I really do mean leaning teens. The teen years are difficult years for the young person as well as those around them, especially parents. Many times, just like my wind-ravaged young pines, they lean badly and seem damaged beyond recovery.
But they are resilient, especially if their root system is firm, deep, and well developed. Don’t give up on them. There’s a lot of future growth and good return ahead.
I thought about this on a Sunday evening as I slipped in late to church. We had just finished counting new-deacon nomination votes and I was to make the elections announcement later in the service. As I sat down by DeDe, it was good to be in church among the people we love so much.
In front of me sat Randy and Lynda McCullough. DeDe and I first met this couple when Randy was a high school sophomore and Lynda was a freshman. They fell in love that year as high schoolers. DeDe and I, in our first year of teaching, fell in love with them at Fairview High School.
Randy was now a deacon candidate. Like all of the eight young men up for deacon nomination, Randy was extremely nervous. Several had asked, “What if I don’t make it? What if the vote goes against me?” I know this is not going to happen due to the long careful process of bringing these men forward, but I understand their concern.
I shouldn’t have done it but couldn’t resist. I leaned forward to Randy’s ear and whispered, “I’ve got good news. You made it. You only made it by one vote, but you made it.”
I’m not a good whisperer, so an entire section of pews burst out laughing.
Later I reminded Lynda that I owed Randy any grief I could give him after having taught and coached him. He was the kind of student that was always waiting to make a statement that would break up the entire class. As a first-year teacher I’d be explaining about mitosis and DNA in biology when Randy McCullough would seriously raise his hand with a question. He’d ask some funny question that more often than not had little to do with the subject at hand. Of course it would break up all of the teen students. Even I would have to work hard to suppress a smile as I tried to restore order.
Randy was never a bad-leaning teen and neither was Lynda. But when they were fourteen and fifteen, I never expected to be giving Randy’s name as a church deacon nearly twenty-five years later.
Here’s a word to you discouraged parents out there. It’s an encouraging statement to youth leaders, teachers, and all of those who love, correct, and work with teenagers:
Don’t give up on a leaning teenager. Help make sure their root system is strong and firm.
Try to look down the road to the future. Don’t count them off as a loss and lose your “future investment.” I’ve seen it too many times. Leaning teens often later become strong, tall adults.
In the weeks after Rita bent my pines over, I continued to watch them daily. To my amazement most have slowly but steadily straightened back up. Time, patience, and the wonderful combination of nature, sunlight, rain, and nutrition can sure make a difference.
Some are broken completely over and must be cut. Others of these small pines will always have a lean. But I don’t plan to cut them. People will use them as “testimony trees” through the years: “Son when I was a boy, hurricane Rita came through here. That tall slash pine there is now about forty years old. It was a small pine when the storm hit. See how it has a slight lean to it. Rita did that. Yep, that was one bad storm.”
The many lessons from a storm,
An unwelcome and destructive storm named Rita.
The strong firm foundational lesson
of not giving up on the leaning trees.