OLYMPIA, Wash. — In a state that has millions and millions of trees, there is one that has become a kind of symbol to a lot of people.
It’s been around for hundreds of years, and as strange as it sounds, this tree is actually inspiring.
On the outermost edge of the state of Washington, out on the Olympic Peninsula is a coarse and raw place. Unforgiving.
The rain comes in sheets.
The wind wallops and wails.
The sea batters the coast with a watery fist that never tires.
To survive here is no easy thing for any living thing.
There are bluffs along ruggedly beautiful Kalaloch beach and on the bluffs are trees that have weathered bitter storms for hundreds of years.
But on one bluff there is one Sitka spruce that is special.
From the beach, down below its canopy, there is a story to be told. A story of survival.
This is no tree. This is a metaphor for life.
“It makes me think about life and how we really are just hanging by a thread,” said Susan Chilton from Spring, Texas. This week’s installment profiles a tree that is inspiring others.
“It is very powerful, it’s a very powerful symbol, and a beautiful illustration of what nature can do with and without our help, right?”
Nobody knows how old it is. How long its been straddling like this.
It has come to be known in these parts as “The Tree of Life”.
People look at the tree called the tree of life near Kalaloch beach
“Somehow it’s surmounted some of the obstacles that were here before it, and it has outlasted them,” said Jennifer Ding from Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Brian Conway says, “For me a little bit of hope. That no matter how tough things can get, how the typical things in life that you depend upon might not be there, you can still get through it.”
There is a waterfall behind it and with the frontal assault of the tides, its foundation is under assault from front and back.
Each storm could be it’s last.
Becca Pifer “I think it’s touching. I think it’s a reminder that things we think are permanent are transient, and we can’t really rely on anything to stay the same for quite too long.”
This is Mathew Nichols. He’s a local who so admires the plight of the “Tree of Life” that he has taken to documenting it.
Mathew Nichols says, “Every year I prepare myself that it’s going to come down, and every year I think this winter’s the winter. But it continues to surprise me and I’ll just accept it surprising me every year.”
He’s there every couple of weeks. Taking his pictures. Hoping that the inevitable doesn’t happen. Knowing that, in the end, it will.
La Push waterfall (Mathew Nichols Photography)
His photos dazzle. They speak to a profound mystery that the tree seems to know the answer to.
They make us ponder, reflect, and feel small.
Mathew Nichols is a local photographer who has taken to documenting the tree of life
Mathew Nichols says, “You know to me it symbolizes the ability to go on, you know. No matter what’s thrown at it, it continues to thrive.”
Tourists come here now. Attracted by the tree’s quest for immortality.
Down the road a ways, Lissy Andros is with the chamber of commerce for the city of Forks.
Lissy Andros says, “We tell people that the Tree of Life, it’s a tree that’s basically on the bluff, and roots are exposed. And we don’t know how it’s staying alive.’
“I’m going to be super sad when it’s not here anymore. But it could outlive me. I don’t know.”
It’s like a high wire artist doing the splits over certain death below.
Some of its roots cling desperately to sandstone and clay.
Others dangle helplessly, straining and grasping for terra firma.
The big ones – old and time-tested – seemingly levitate. Gnarled and twisted. Dancing above the fray.
Day after day, the tree, nearly adrift, but hardwired to survive, strives to exist. It clings to life.
That’s what we do, isn’t it?
We cling to life.
The tree of life near Kalaloch beach
Dave Daltorio says, “It is symbolic of life right? You go through different phases in your life and sometimes you’re hanging by a thread just like this tree is. But it survives.”
Karen Daltorio says, “I’m happy that it’s living and I’m going to be optimistic that it’s going to be around for quite a while longer.”
Keith Kriegel says, “It’s had a hard life but it’s hanging in there and it’s doing the best it can with what it has to work with.”
Becca Pifer “For now it’s a joy, it’s beautiful, and it’s nature at its best.” “
And so this mirror on the beach endures. Untethered. But grounding us. Reflecting back on how precious life is. How life persists until it can’t anymore.
And somehow, it lives. Against all odds. Against the laws of gravity and nature, it lives.
And for now, anyway, for people like Mathew Nichols, who is drawn to it again and again, and countless others, it inspires and somehow teaches.
Because the Tree of Life’s story is all of our stories.
This is no tree. This is a metaphor for life.