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I took a long walk through the woods on Sunday, back near where I grew up. It was a necessary journey to avoid going crazy in the chaos and volume of the city.

“The truly amazing thing is that trees can’t grow that tall without a load of stress and wind trying to knock them back down to the ground. Even slight winds will cause a tree old or young to bend and bow. The reason adult trees can handle this constant back-and-forth is because they weathered stress when they were younger.”

A few steps on moss-laden paths was all it took to get me feeling right again. A few times I stood in place and listened to chipmunks chirping, watching the tops of tall trees bend in the wind. It’s pretty god damn amazing, when you think about it; these sixty-foot-tall wooden spires are completely exposed to the elements for their entire lives, and the wind never breaks them down.

The truly amazing thing is that trees can’t grow that tall without a load of stress and wind trying to knock them back down to the ground. Even slight winds will cause a tree old or young to bend and bow. The reason adult trees can handle this constant back-and-forth is because they weathered stress when they were younger. Those tiny winds cause the tree to form stress wood enabling the rigid and upright oaks and hemlocks we’re familiar with. Without that stress wood, these trees would collapse under their own weight.

It’s a process you can see happen for yourself.

Pick yourself up a few plant containers and a packet of seeds. Fill those containers with a nice potting medium and throw in the seeds, then wait a few weeks to see the first signs of life popping their way through the soil. This young and vigorous stage in a plant’s life is impressive to watch. Under ideal circumstances, the plants seem to double in size by the day.

But before you grow too impressed, pop those bad boys outside.

After even a few minutes those vigorous seedlings will begin to flop over or wilt from the sudden sunlight. They have no ability to handle these stresses, and if you left them outside they’d likely die. That’s why you bring the seedlings inside after an hour. Tomorrow, bring them out for two hours and notice their improved posture. After a week, the seedlings have hardened off and can remain outdoors in their new home.

The trees and the seedlings need that stress to grow strong because they can’t stand long without it. They’ll flourish in a protected environment, but collapse under the first signs of stress.

“Now wait a minute”, the contrarians will say, “The wind does too knock trees down. It’s called a tornado, duh!”

Point taken. But those are exceptional circumstances, and for every tree a tornado uproots, it can’t budge a dozen others. Also consider this tree:

It’s grown in a feature titled Boulder Field, an enormous and empty expanse of wind-whipped boulders in Hickory Run State Park. This was the destination for my weekend trip. There weren’t tornadoes that threatened this tree, but it has seen some shit. Imagine total exposure during winter weather, summer hale storms, lightning and thunder, torrential rain. You get the picture. That sucker took it all and still stands upright and strong, in a place nothing else wants to grow.

These trees literally wouldn’t be standing if it weren’t for constant stress, further adding to my suggestion that you get Plant Tough too.

The bad days are what makes us strong and capable of standing tall in the good days, so don’t hide from them, own it.

And if after awhile, the stress gets to you and you need a break, take a walk into the woods. You’ll find what you’re looking for there.

I always do.

Matt Suwak
About the Author

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in bird watching and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works during the day as a landscaper and gardener, and by night a freelance writer. He can throw a football ten miles from a stationary position and has grappled mountain lions and lived to tell about it. The lions cannot say the same.

His other writing can be found at www.heyplantguy.com

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