An Olive Tree
I recently had the opportunity to go back and visit one of my favorite places in the world. Florence, Italy. This time around, I was able to stay in the surrounding hill country about thirty minutes away from the city in a small town called Montespertoli. The previous two times that I had been to Italy, I stayed right in the heart of Florence. So, this was altogether a different experience. We stayed with the Ammirable family who run a retreat center, complete with vineyards and olive groves for miles. I was so enthralled with the way that these olive trees populated the rolling hills. I noticed this tree in particular, and others like it, that seemed to be growing together, following one another's undulating movements. As I stared at these trees, I began to wonder what narrative they were trying to tell. They looked like one tree the way they mimicked each other's growth pattern, but as I observed them, I could not find any point in which they were connected. I wondered if they were thriving off the same root system. I wondered what existed for them underground. Were they separated underneath the soil as well? Or did they belong to the same root system? Above ground, the trees were heavy with branches, leaves and fruit, which were all autonomous from one another. This intrigued me. Were they always like that? Were they once one tree that had separated over time? I thought of Pangaea, how the evidence suggests that there used to be just one land mass until a large scale unknown event caused the land to separate and drift. A map betrays that history. Our land looks like a jigsaw puzzle that was once assembled into one whole piece. I wondered if these trees had a similar story. So I asked the Ammirables about their olive trees. They shared with me that in 1985, shortly after they acquired the olive groves, they lost their entire crop of olive trees. The temperature that year dropped below 20 degrees, which kills the trees. There was nothing the Ammirables could do except to wait. Wait and watch. What happens with olive trees is that shoots will spring up from the dead trees and begin to form new trees. Several trees can grow from that one root system. The new trees create these beautiful mimetic structures where the forms follow one another, but they are completely separate trees growing out of the old root system of one tree. So what used to be one tree grew into 2-3 different, independent trees. And, somehow, they become more beautiful as they work and grow together, making something new out of what has died. This tells the eternal story of humanity. We experience death, which is so painful. Devastating. Union is broken. What once gave life and promise is dead. And yet, something happens in the dark. There is something going on that our eyes cannot see and perhaps our hearts cannot perceive. Earth and water and sunshine preserve and nourish. Shoots spring forth. What used to be one has broken apart and become many. And each individual is living, flourishing and growing alongside another.