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Trees Knees and other forms of Adaptation

Knees are not my strong suit. I had an accident in my twenties that resulted in partial meniscus removal and, while I’m still able to use the knee, it has developed arthritis. The good news is that if I do my physical therapy regime 2x a week, I can live pain-free. The bad news is that if I do my physical therapy regime – FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE – 2x a week, I can live pain-free – PERHAPS.

So far, so good. Adapt and overcome. Or, what I’ve now termed: “participatory healing.”

You see, I have tried braces, shots, essential oils, but what seems to work for me is “strengthening the knee that is feeble.” I can live pain-free, IF I adapt my lifestyle.

And that is why I was fascinated to find out that trees do the same thing! In fact, the Bald Cypress actually pokes it roots up above the surface like knobby wooden stalagmites that help stabilize this water-loving tree. The Cypress ‘knees’ are believed to provide oxygen to the roots during flood conditions. More likely, scientist now report, the knees are part of an intertwined root system with other cypresses that allow them to resist very strong winds; even hurricanes rarely overturn them.

Of course, you and I might trip on these bulbous knees and other surface roots that help anchor trees, yet I couldn’t help correlate the tree’s plight with my own:

  • These roots are common in older trees

  • Exposed roots often happen when the topsoil has washed away

  • Some species, like Cypress, Oak and Maples, are simply more prone to have top roots

We all have some area of physical weakness that seems to get worse with age and “weather.” Some of us are genetically predisposed to have bad knees or eyes or back or feet – you name it. And, certainly, we can all get tripped up physically, mentally, and emotionally by our weaknesses.

We can choose to avoid fixing the problem – like the big roots in my back yard from a Sycamore tree – we can keep running over and chipping away at them with the lawn mower, OR, we can see these exposed roots as an indicator that the “tree” needs some stabilization. The full verse from Hebrews 12:12-13 reads: “Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”

Not every healing in the Bible was simply a miracle. We read here that there’s a part for us to play – a big part that determines if we will be put out of joint or healed. And I don’t believe this passage is primarily about physical maladies, either. The preceding verses talk about the discipline of the Lord for our good.

So often we want the quick fix or covering-up of the exposed roots in life. But nature teaches us, once again, that the knobby knees of life show us where to focus our attention. Will we make the changes, strengthen and adapt or will we let ourselves be put “out of joint”?

To adapt Yogi Berra’s famous baseball quote:

Healing is 90 percent God and the other half is you 😉


The Bald Cypress, Taxodium distichum, is a deciduous conifer which means it sheds it leaves each year. Perhaps that’s why this native of southeastern United States is called “bald.” Though often found by water, this tree adapts to a wide range of soil types, whether wet, dry, and swampy. It is noted for the copper-red fall color of its lacy needles.

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