In 1913 poet and journalist Joyce Kilmer wrote his best-known poem simply titled “Trees.” It begins with, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.” In fact, poems and trees have one thing in common. They are hard to define. What one person considers poetry could be something very different to another. The same is true of a tree. How can we define a tree?
There is no universally accepted common or scientific definition of a tree. Scientists classify all plants and animals into categories such as family, genus, and species. But trees, in general, don’t fit into any of those categories. You can assign any of those labels to a specific tree, but you can’t fit all trees into one specific classification. The best you can do is say that all trees are in the plant kingdom.
Even the common concept of a tree is a bit vague. You could say that a tree is a tall, woody plant with branches, leaves, bark, and a trunk that shows rings when you cut it down. That means what we call “palm trees” are not trees. Neither are banana trees, papaya trees, or Joshua trees. Also, bamboo is a plant that can grow to heights that exceed many trees, but we classify bamboo as grass. Many woody plants that we call shrubs or bushes can grow as tall as a height. How tall does a bush have to grow before we call it a tree?
No matter how you define trees, consider the benefits they give us. From trees, we get wood for furniture, homes, and buildings. We get fuel for campfires and even heating homes. Without the wood from trees, our ancestors could not have built boats and wagons that allowed them to travel, explore, and spread around the world. Trees provide shade, protection from wind, and in many cases, fruit. They can live for decades, centuries, or even thousands of years, releasing oxygen and taking in carbon dioxide to reduce Earth’s greenhouse effect. We will never find a poem lovely as a tree in spring, summer, or fall.
In Genesis, we read about the progressive steps of creation as God placed on Earth first grasses, then plants bearing seeds, and then trees bearing fruit that was good to eat (Genesis 1:11-12). God told the first couple to enjoy the fruit of all the trees except one. The beauty of the paradise where God placed Adam and Eve must have been beyond description. However, the tragedy that came because of the sin of pride and disobedience did not completely destroy that beauty. A glimpse of it has remained for us to enjoy, and it inspired Joyce Kilmer to write those words, “I think that I shall never see, A poem lovely as a tree.”
No matter how you define trees, we could not live without them. Kilmer’s poem ends with, “Poems are made by fools like me, But only God can make a tree.” God made the trees, and it was on a tree that He made the ultimate sacrifice for the sin that began with Adam and Eve. (See I Peter 2:21-24.) Sin has marred the beauty of the world and our lives as well. However, God has provided the solution–if we are willing to accept it.
— Roland Earnst © 2022