Of trees and birthdays

sad on your birthday

If you think about it, the tree is an amazing creature.

As a tree grows and ages, it becomes more and more difficult to deliver water to the top from the roots, thereby setting an upper limit to its height.  Eventually, distal limbs become too “expensive” to support, and stop developing; this is why the topmost branches are the smallest.  Despite the deficit, the tree is still able to put a new ring around its trunk every year.

The paradox is in that the taller the tree gets, the more difficult it is to support itself, the less new branches it grows, and therefore, the less new leaves to carry on respiration that it needs to conduct photosynthesis to produce said support.  The trunk rings do get thinner and thinner with each passing year, but eventually, they cannot get any thinner – and distal branches sacrifice themselves and die off.

To stay alive, a tree has to be small, and grow slowly.

It’s either an ecological system of checks and balances, or a perpetual limbo created by an intelligent designer with a bit of tongue-in-cheek attitude.

But don’t feel badly for the tree: it has no fixed lifespan, and as long as it plays by the rules, ie keeping small, killing off the limbs with the least seniority, and as long as there are no extenuating circumstances such as hurricanes, it can go on and on.  Some oaks have been aged centuries! Imagine celebrating 400 birthdays?  What’s 40 in comparison?  And I’m not even 40 yet.  Not till next year – if I’m lucky.

Especially, don’t feel badly for the tree because remember, we humans, too, have fallen victim to this strange sense of humor.  The same cycle of life that governs a tree’s development and expansion also curtails our own longevity.  And what’s more, our cycle makes a lot less sense than that of a tree.  In fact, if you stop to ponder a second, you will realize that the human biological life process is rather redundant, non-sensical, and sadly predictable.

Allow me to explain: A new human is born undeveloped and unable to fend and think for itself for at least 20 years.  In fact, he can’t even walk well on his own for at least a year.  I’m not a zoologist, but I don’t know any other animal whose young is born so helpless.  And even when the human can finally move around on his own and control his physical faculties, the brain is still  very immature.  Child development and the journey towards adulthood is long and requires much time and work from the parents and the human himself.  However, as soon as maturation is complete, like falling over the apex of a triangle, aging starts.  There is no plateau.  Thusly, the results of 20 years of growing, learning, and developing are on the decline immediately after their summit, and as an intelligent being, a human gets to watch, with full comprehension, the deterioration of himself! We are gifted with intelligence, beauty, strength – and just as we finally become aware and learn how to use these things, we lose them.

Some people might think of it as reaping in the benefits of the hard and painstaking work that is maturation, rather than a sad demise of a biological empire, but I think it’s cruel.

Fortunately, the silver lining is that unlike in the case of the tree, the human doesn’t have to endure this for 300+ years. Life leads to death pretty quickly on the grand scheme of things, and that much is assured at birth.

August kicks off the start of the birthday season – my son is in June, then there is a break, then my daughter, and then Grandma, Mom, Dad, and in conclusion, me.  What can I say, birthdays have lost their luster for me, and I really don’t expect anything spectacular, but somehow, every year, I am still sad and disappointed.  Anyway, thankfully, it’s over.  Now on to Halloween.

A mature human with immature offspring.

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