The Parts that Grow Best in the Darkness

Black and white photo of roots in soil and stones

There’s a beech tree in the woods at Dragon Hollow. It’s deep, deep in the woods. So deep I had never seen it until I went off the path and climbed a slope I’d never climbed before and ended up in a gully I had never clambered through before.

It’s overgrown there, with rhododendron, dog hobble, and brambles. Fallen trees criss-cross the gully, making transit difficult for a two-legger like me.

I tripped and stumbled on a steep incline, and landed on my butt next to this beech.

It’s not a tall beech. It’s not a thick beech. It’s not even a pretty beech.

In fact, if you were landscaping for picturesqueness, you’d probably have it removed. It’s not picturesque.

What it is, is damaged. At some point, a larger tree fell on it and knocked it to the ground. Its trunk broke nearly in half, very near the base. Then another tree fell, breaking the fallen trunk in several additional places.

The beech lies along the ground, twisted, misshapen, broken, scarred. Two dead trees lie on top of it still, holding it down. The bark is damaged where they landed.

Yet still, it rises.

Along its length, portions of the tree that once were branches are now new trunks. They rise upward, stretching toward the light.

How. How. How does it do this?

I have been dreaming of disappearing into the woods. I have dreamed this for most of my life. To just. Disappear. To take a small pack on my back, a water bottle by my side, maybe a pocket knife, and just disappear. Become one with the forest.

Maybe reappear someday, twigs in my hair, leaves sprouting from my fingers, my skin made of bark. Maybe not.

When I’m depressed or in the throws of CPTSD response, sometimes this manifests as a death wish. I don’t plan to make myself die, but sometimes I want to crawl into the earth and be human no longer.

Say goodbye to all the trials, all the stresses, all the strains. Goodbye, goodbye. Descend down and rise up, all spirit no body. Or just, simply, nothing.

This past weekend, I took myself into the woods. A miniature disappearing act. Knowing I would return. Knowing I am not yet ready for permanent disappearing. I went into the woods, though, for respite.

And something happened. I found that a part of me DID disappear. Into the earth. A part of me GREW for the purpose of disappearing.

I grew roots.

It’s not quite accurate to say that the roots are new. I’ve been working on them. But this past weekend they took on life in a new way. They grew down and down and down and became stronger, bolder. They gave me respite. They let me disappear beneath the earth.

I grew into the woods.

How, how, how did that beech tree become what it is? Roots.

When we two-leggers look at trees, we see trunks. Branches. Leaves. But that is only a part of the story, not even half of it.

The most important work goes on below the surface, under the earth, in the roots. That is where the tree finds its chief sustenance, its strength, its resilience, and its life. Roots are the primary means of communication among individuals. The roots of the forest’s guardians (mother and father and parent and grandparent trees, usually the largest trees in the forest, often oak and/or beech) are how they regulate the life of the forest, keep it in balance.

Of course there is important work above ground, too. Photosynthesis. Breath. Transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen. But none of this work is possible without the work underground.

You can’t see my roots. I don’t expect you to. I don’t want you to. They’re mine. They’re private. They’re underground.

They’re doing work that is not translatable into words. It shouldn’t be. It’s not made for the light. It’s made for dark places, for earthy places, for fecund places filled with fungal threads and burrowing worms and the dens of hibernating furries.

It’s risky even sharing that they exist. Inviting you to see them, to see how they trail behind and below me, how they root me, wherever I am. Inviting you to dig for them. Don’t dig for them. Trust.

It’s Spring. You can feel it in the air. Time to rise. Your feed is probably full of people exhorting you to sweep out the debris of winter and fill your life with sunshine. This advice is not wrong. But it is incomplete.

As we move into the next season, into sunlight and warmth, let us not forget where our true sustenance comes from. Let us not forget the work that goes on underground. Let us not forget to nurture the parts of ourselves that grow best in darkness.

For that is the work that enables us to weather the storms, the catastrophes, the worries and anxieties and disasters, to survive the damage and then, still, to rise.


  1. James McDaniel

    Wow, I needed this today. This is so true and I relate very much to it. Working tirelessly on problems most people don’t even know I have is the story of my life, especially recently. As much as sometimes I would love to tell people about all my shit so they would know how much work goes into getting to just an average mood, it would defeat the entire purpose of my self-growth and self-healing. I think there’s a reason why certain things grow best in the dark, and to me at least, it’s because you benefit from them the most when it’s for the right reasons. Putting them out there publicly may garner credit and sympathy, but keeping them private and using them as a way to grow spiritually and emotionally is infinitely more rewarding. Even though the outside world only sees the finished product, it’s fine. My goal can’t be to do I think will impress people the most, etc. My number one goal is to grow mentally, emotionally, and most especially spiritually everyday and hopefully help someone else along the way, knowing they’ve got their own garden in the dark as well.

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