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How can you tell what kind of life a tree has had? Dendrochronology. A big, fancy scientific method that basically examines the rings and looks for clues.

Trees grow faster in the spring and summer, adding layers of xylum next to their outermost bark. When fall and winter roll around, growth slows down. If you cut a cross-section through a tree trunk, you would see alternating light and dark sections representing those faster and slower growth periods. If you counted the rings back to the center, you’d know how many years that tree was alive (before you killed it to get the cross section! Scientists today use tiny drills to bore out a core sample from living trees.)

By examining tree rings closer, you can also see that some light-colored rings are thicker or thinner than others, indicating periods of more water, longer growing seasons a certain year, drought, what side of the tree faces away from the sun, or even natural disasters like cooler temperatures due to volcanic eruptions. By knowing how old a tree is and coordinating ring characteristics with what is known historically about a certain region, scientists can then use that information to date and even place unidentified samples. All to say, you can tell a lot about a tree from its rings.

My life, like a tree, experiences seasons of rapid growth followed by times of rest. Some seasons were amply watered like the years I spent at a Christian college.  Other seasons were more desert-like due to the drought of chronic fatigue syndrome.  And God only knows how many years I’ll spend in stressed conditions raising three kids while working practically full-time and trying to write on the side. Whatever the season or conditions, I am growing.

But what kind of record am I leaving for my children? How will they know about the high and low points of my life … and what carried me through them? Have I told stories they can pass on to future generations? Do I have old journals or photo albums that document my personal journey? Have I invested into the lives of those around me? When I am gone, will there be evidence of the life I lived?

In being like a tree in 2012, I wonder what kind of story my 40 “rings” would tell.

What about you? What legacy lingers in the rings of your life? Are there more periods of growth or drought?

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