Justin Ricklefs


Stay Put, Like the Oak Tree

“The winds are crazy, stay put.”

Last Friday afternoon, as I left a meeting, the skies to the north (the direction I was headed) looked eery. I’d been so focused on work that I didn’t even know storms were a possibility, let alone a probability.

One of our daughters, and her friend, were at my in-law’s, and I was on pick up duty.

I did what every well-intentioned son-in-law would do when receiving a caring, thoughtful warning signal text from his mother-in-law…

I ignored it and drove right into those skies.

30 minutes or so later, I rolled up. In typical Midwest fashion, the storm moved on without me, not sticking around long enough for me to even experience what those in its path just a few miles north of me that afternoon described.

“Did you see my text?”

“Uh, yeah, I’m sorry. I ignored it. Honestly didn’t think it would be that bad.”

She’s used to it by now, and I’m glad for her care.

When we rolled home, this time west to east, along the path of the storm, there were trees and limbs down everywhere.

We were in the wake of its power, she was right that it had been bad.

One of our neighbors lost a full-grown beautiful birch (I think, I’m terrible at tree types). And it reminded me of our own fallen, breathtaking dogwood a few summers ago.

I’m getting weirder in my old age, but I felt sad for the tree. All those years, gone. In an instant. The shade. The kids climbing it. The stories it held.

It just kind of sucks.

Then on my run today after work, I stopped at the halfway point, as I always do. To catch my breath. To soak in a bit of what land looks like without humans and development. To pause.

But let’s be honest, mostly to catch my breath.

I was pretty revved up today, mostly in a good way. Monday delivered a powerful dose of duties. But a full day like that always leaves me with a slight whir of anxiety, no matter how positive it was.

Did I do enough?

Will it be OK?

I’m behind on emails now.

Ugh, what was that one thing I was supposed to write down?

Am I cut out for this?

Do I have what it takes?

And then I looked up, literally.

At this big ass oak tree.

Soaring above me. Covering me in its presence. Reminding me that the days matter, sure, but it’s the years that tell the stories.

This tree was out in a field that no one touches. Free from HOA’s and the unspoken pressures of suburban lawncare.

This tree had no one to impress. No one to ensure its canopy was perfectly manicured. And no one to prune its imperfections.

It just was.

I’m sure someone can prove or disprove this hunch, but I bet per fallen tree capita, the oak tree falls far less frequently than its counterparts. You just don’t see a bunch of oaks laying around on the ground after a thunderstorm.

Again, I’m getting weirder in my old age, but I just stared at it for 30-45 seconds. Noticing the strength and beauty of it, for sure. But I was more drawn to the imperfect parts.

The dead limbs. The broken branches. The withered and weathered areas.

As the seasons passed, and as the storms came and went, this oak tree just kept growing. Kept getting stronger. Showcased resilience and resourcefulness.


I whispered out loud, to a tree, like a weirdo. And headed towards home. My slow, consistent jog back. East to west this time.

Contemplating the way of the oak tree. Wondering what it looks like to grieve, and then ultimately accept, the dying and broken parts, dig in deep with resilience on the withered and weathered ones, and yet, keep finding ways and practices to grow stronger.

Developing deeper roots. Withstanding the storms and seasons. And one day, waking up to realize the slow, steady way of change, impact, and generosity is the only way.

Stay put awhile, like the oak tree has.

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