Recently, I had the day off from work. I decided to visit as many parks as I could in the morning in search of a usable batting cage. While I did eventually find my elusive batting cage, a pit stop I made on my return trip was the lasting memory from my trip.
Big Tree Park is a hidden little Florida park off the side of General Hutchinson Parkway, a cozy roadway complete with an inspiring tree canopy. Big Tree Park is a memorial park to the blackened remains of an approximately 3,500 year old bald cypress tree, named “The Senator.” Big Tree Park has an inviting entrance, complete with a playground and not-so-big tree at the forefront to the trail. The trail, a wooden boardwalk that extends over a natural hammock swamp, leads its visitors down a beautiful pathway, with informative signs and illustrations. The boardwalk’s sandy color blended perfectly with the backdrop of green foliage and rising trees, creating a marvelous natural canvas. The remains of The Senator are striking and large, the massive width of it leaves onlookers with a look of wonder and amazement.
Megan and I had visited Big Tree Park previously, and I appreciated the park, but other circumstances held me back from really enjoying anything.I was finally relaxed though – this led to a completely different experience at Big Tree Park, and a newfound thirst to take in the imagery around me.
As a believer in God, I strive to reflect Him with each day and action in my life. As a creative, I can’t go into a place like Big Tree Park and not be inspired. As I walked through Big Tree Park, I couldn’t help but be enthralled by the beauty and wildness of nature. My eyes were observant and my mind was able to process the beauty and story of Big Tree Park in a way that was directly related to my walk with Christ.
The first sign in the park told of The Senator’s incredible age and height at the tree’s peak. At 3,500 years old, The Senator had reached a height of 162 feet. As a casual observer of nature, this was impressive and incredible.
As a Christian inspired by the wonders of the natural world, this was breathtaking. As a Christian, I’ve often found myself to be frustrated by the relative lack of speedy growth in my walk with Christ. I’m frustrated by the little things that seemingly hold me back, and by my immaturity in the understanding of my faith. I’m disappointed in my lack of perspective at times, and I feel myself reaching for a greater understanding of the Bible and the Gospel almost daily. I am easily lost in my head, as you can probably tell, and I can be needlessly hard on myself. Reading the information on the sign about The Senator’s age and size provided relief in a manner I never expected. It took 3,500 years for The Senator to become so great. Why am I so concerned with my youthfulness in only 22 years of life? There is no reason for me to expect to act fully matured as a pillar in my faith at my age. I will strive everyday to reflect God, but understanding where I am at this stage in my faith is key.
The next sign told of the growth patterns of bald cypress trees, and how they grow rapidly upward for the first 100 years, then turn to steadily filling out the trunk and upward growth slows. This tidbit of information immediately sunk deep within me, and again provided a comforting feeling to an unresolved issue of mine. As Christians, we normally take the first step in our walk with Christ with great excitement. I certainly did. I eagerly began my walk throughout my youth and into my high school years, confident in my key to the secrets of life.
However, despite my knowledge of the texts and stories of the Bible, I didn’t understand any of underlying themes of the Bible. In my second year of college, my choices led to an important crossroad in my life. My upward growth stalled as I pondered the truths I so readily accepted in my youth. My life actions weren’t matching these truths I was taught in my youth because I didn’t understand them. I began to question myself and my beliefs, and in doing so I began creating the foundation of my faith. I spent countless hours entrenched in key Spiritual passages (mostly Matthew 5-7 and the other gospels), relearning my faith and the reasons behind the actions I was taught to do. I now view that second year of college as a turning point in my life. It was the moment I became self aware of the reasons I live my life, and I began building the foundation that my faith hinges on today. It was the moment I stopped growing so rapidly upward and began focusing on my “trunk”.
The third sign told of how bald cypress trees were often competing with each other for sunlight, so growing could be difficult. However, some trees were able to grow more rapidly if others around it had fallen, allowing it to gain more sunlight.
At this point my mind was on overdrive trying to decipher how the bald cypress trees resembled life in the kingdom. I’m not going to argue that Christians grow more when others fall, rather insist growth comes more easily with the help of others. Having people around you to grow together in a loving, supportive community will often lead to faster maturation. Instead of learning everything for oneself, relying on the knowledge and experience of others can help avoid pitfalls and roadblocks that typically stall a developing mind.
The next signs told of The Senator’s traumas and eventual downfall. In 1925, a hurricane knocked off the top of The Senator, knocking the tree down approximately 45 feet. In 1929, The Senator was reportedly commemorated by President Coolidge with a bronze plaque. However, in 1945 the plaque was stolen and never was recovered.
On a somewhat related note, human life can often times resemble these unfortunate happenings. How often in our lives have things gone the wrong way for no apparent reason? Or the times when we’ve been wronged and the correct order was never reestablished? Not only as a Christian, but as a human, these feelings in life are readily apparent and a difficult reality for many on a daily basis. The crushing pressure of life’s untimely mannerisms have plagued everyone at some point. In such moments, it’s imperative to cling to a solid foundation rather than relying on the heights of what I have. Branching out is seldom discouraged, but branches are much more likely to fall in the storms of life than the solid foundation of a well grounded trunk. It’s important to understand and be okay with that reality, and learn to grow from it regardless.
The last sign bears both the saddest and most hopeful message from Big Tree Park. in 2012, The Senator was burned by arsonists, leaving only a 20 ft charred, blackened trunk. The trunk is absolutely massive (pictured here). At this point on my hike, I was fully invested in the story of The Senator, and extremely distraught at the fate of the beloved bald cypress.
Such as the fate of The Senator, life doesn’t always play fair. Standing tall and proud as a staple in a beautiful natural park, the tree was burned by accident and ceased to live afterwards. How does something so great end in such demise? Hope does linger onward though at the end of the first sign, revealing that a genetic copy of The Senator was planted at the front of the park, letting the spirit of The Senator live on. The park reopened a year after The Senator met it’s end, letting it’s curious onlookers read the story of the great bald cypress tree. Although the tree itself may no longer be alive, it’s influence is still alive and well throughout the area. The importance and power of The Senator extended far beyond its extraordinary size and age; the majesty and respect the tree commanded inspires woefully lost-in-their-head types such as myself and countless others who have passed through the memorial. The impact we have on the lives around us are reflected deeper and richer in our weakest moments and passing than they ever were in the proudest and strongest moments. What becomes of us and how others remember our contributions can inspire countless more than our physical attempts ever could. True spirits never die; they continue to inspire and cultivate minds even when they are no longer present.
Like The Senator, my life goal is to inspire even after the day I expire.