I was walking around Downtown Franklin with my Mom and Brother earlier today, thinking about how extremely HOT it was outside, when I looked to my left and noticed a bug sitting on the window of a shop. It immediately caught my attention because it looked so different from any other bug I’d ever seen before. It almost looked as if someone hand painted little white flowers on all over it! As I stared at it for several seconds, I called my Mom and Brother over to take a look at the interesting creature I’d discovered. They seemed to think it was pretty intriguing as well and after we took a few pictures of the masterpiece hanging out downtown, we continued on down the sidewalk. I was excited about my observation and continued to ponder where it came from and why I’d never seen anything like it before, but then soon became distracted with other thoughts. I knew I was definitely going to post it on my blog since it tied in perfectly with the theme I wanted to convey, however I wasn’t sure how exciting this post would be if all I did was slap on a picture of a bug that I thought was cool. Thats of course when God took over.
I came home and began to research this unusual looking bug. At first I was unsure of how to even describe it in the search box, but eventually settled on “long orange and white bug”, and of course thanks to the wonders of Google, the mystery was soon solved! I found that the actual name of the bug is Ailanthus Webworm and the adults fly from March to November, commonly found from Ontario and New York, south to Florida, west to Nebraska and Texas, and south into Mexico. I realized these bugs seem to rack up the mileage pretty quickly, which made me feel even more happy I was able to see one. I continued my research and found that the webworm is actually in the moth family and when its wings are open its even more impressive. It even starts out as a pretty ordinary looking worm, then builds its cocoon and morphs into the eye catching creature above.
The research I conducted about the webworm itself was definitely interesting and taught me something new I was completely unaware of. But I think this initial research purposely brought me to something else that I needed to figure out even more than becoming aware of a new species of insect. I began to find that the tree you’re most likely to find a webworm hanging out on is a Ailanthus Altissima, most commonly known as “Tree of Heaven”. The name caught my attention so I continued to find out more and learned this tree is originally from China, but now it can be found all throughout North America, especially run down, neglected urban areas. The funny part about this tree is that its also nicknamed “Tree from Hell” due mostly to the fact that its extremely resiliant, even in the worst possibly environments. Not to mention its one of the most pollution-tolerant of all the trees, absorbing sulfur dioxide, withstanding cement dust and fumes from coal tar operations, as well as resisting ozone exposure relatively well. Furthermore, its possibly the fastest growing tree in North America (3.3 to 6.6 ft per year for the first 4 years) although it has one of the shortest of all the lifespans among trees at only 50 years.
I thought about this tree as a metaphor for my life and how I’d like to be more like it. From what I gathered, this tree basically goes against all odds and plants itself in the middle of the worst parts of a city. The neglected areas that no one cares to visit, the places that have long been ignored, and settles among the people that probably feel the same way. It doesn’t shrink up and die after a few years of no attention, instead it grows faster than any other tree in America! Its also extremely steadfast and resilient when damaged (regrowth starts immediately and rapidly). And its known to be so hard to extract or kill that several different chemicals are needed to ensure its removal from a location. This tree may come across to some as a nusance, especially to those who want it gone, however I choose to see it as something quite different. I see this tree as defying the odds and remaining strong and unpredictable to what others think is “normal”. It chooses the worst places to reside, yet lives a short but purposeful life among a variety of different people. Sometimes this tree is noticed and appreciated for what it is, but most times it seems most people want it gone. Yet through it all it stays strong and tall and doesn’t let anyone disrupt where its made its home. Don’t feel sorry for this tree though, because sure enough while it was alive it was extremely motivated to spread its seed very aggressively, which means there will be many more to carry on its legacy!
As I focused on the “Tree of Heaven” and how I would like to live my life with that sort of passion and steadfast heart, I realized how fitting its name truly was. It made me think more and more of the life Jesus lead while he was here on Earth. He was typically found in the worst areas that most people didn’t want to be seen in, He lived in the poorest of areas and associated with those who were less than perfect. The majority of people didn’t understand Him or want Him around and tried to get rid of Him any way they could, yet he wouldn’t go until he was ready. He lived a short life while he was here, but made sure he planted the necessary “seed” within his followers to carry on his legacy!
Even as I’m writing this, I’m realizing how unbelievable this discovery was and how perfect God is in everything he does! Little did I know some weird bug I noticed earlier today while walking around downtown, would make me learn about a tree it tends to frequent which in turn correlates amazingly with Jesus Christ himself! I’m so blown away every time I acknowledge God and his creations because he never fails to show me just how intricate the most simple things can be. I truly believe with all my heart that since He is the creator of everything, that everything He created must somehow reflect back to him. If we can take that notion to heart, there will be absolutely no way we can ever question His existence or love for us because it is all around us if we just look deeper!
In a 1943 a book titled A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith she specifically wrote of this tree metaphorically:
“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly…survives without sun, water, and seemingly earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”