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The Power of Words

I have been fascinated by images of exposed roots for years now. Here is just one of dozens of photos I've taken in the last couple of decades of partially-exposed tree roots. This root system belongs to a large tree growing near a stream in the neighborhood I lived in a couple of years ago.

I've been wanting to write a follow-up to last month's post The Untold Story for some time now, but every time I sit down to start, I have a different thing to say. To cut through the chaos of too many things to write and say, I often start with an image. Somehow, a visual image, rather than words, will tell me what it is I most need to write about. Today, this image of a tree's exposed roots was the obvious choice.

To understand why that is, you need to see that my collection of exposed-root photos goes back only a couple of decades. The first example in my collection is actually not a photo at all, but a drawing I made when I came home from one of my very first counseling sessions to deal with the effects of the sexual abuse I'd experienced as a child. I wish I could find it (and I'll post a scan of it if I do--it's here somewhere!) so instead, I'll try to describe it in words.

The drawing I made is not a work of art, by any stretch of the imagination, but it, like many other drawings I made in the early years when I was new to counseling, was often the way I expressed my feelings. I could not, initially, put words on anything I felt. I also could not put my memories into words. I had not forgotten what happened, but I was terrified to speak about it. The spoken word held a kind of power that was extremely frightening to me. The written word has seemed even more powerful to me, a writer, so speaking about it came first, while writing is only now becoming possible.

The drawing I made that day so many years ago looks a lot like this photo: a tall strong tree below which is a horizontal line. The line marks the location of the ground, the place where our image of the tree is usually blocked. Beneath that line in my drawing an extensive root system stretched downward and branched out in my directions, just like this photo. The difference between the photo and my drawing is that the roots in the drawing are red. Those furthest down from the tree have red droplets dripping from them. And, yes, those droplets are blood.

I am grateful to the many friends and readers who took the time to comment on my blog post, either here or in another venue. The vast majority of these comments were supportive and understanding of my motivation for writing the post, which was to shed light on a crime that happens to way too many kids. Those few comments that were not supportive, that accused me of wanting only to hurt the perpetrator or to seek vengeance, served mainly to prove, one more sad time, the main point of my post: kids (or adults) who speak out about their abuse are often ignored or even attacked for telling the truth about what happened to them.

I understood when I drew that tree so many years ago, I was drawing an image of myself, at least the way I saw myself then. Perhaps I should try drawing it again. I think the tree would look different now. She is still tall and strong and supported by an extensive root system. There are surely some new roots, branching out from the old ones--new people and groups and activities that have come to form my support system. The bleeding in those original roots has stopped and the wounds have mostly healed. Maybe not entirely healed, but I wonder if anybody ever completely heals from a trauma as deep as the one sexually abused children suffer.

Near the end of my first post were these words: "I felt alone before I told. I felt even more alone afterward." One of the things I have wanted to write about in the last month, is how that sense of being alone in this thing has changed for me. Although it took many years of "telling" before I finally found someone who knew how to help me, it did eventually happen. I am still plagued by occasional bouts of feeling horribly alone, but most of the time that happens, I soon realize it's because I am the one who is ignoring me now.

A final thought: I have been wondering for some time if the topic and focus of my blog has changed. What started out as a blog largely about complex systems science (that's still the tag line up there at the top) has branched out and covered an enormous amount of topics that concern me. It's a personal blog, of course, not a magazine or newspaper, but I wonder if I need to split the science stuff out and put it in another blog. Or maybe just change the tag line! As I approach the four-year anniversary of this blog (in early December this year) I'm going to be giving this issue more thought. I will let you all know when I figure it out - thanks for reading!


  1. I am so drawn to the tree with the exposed roots, but maybe I don't yet understand what this image means and has meant to you. In reality, exposed roots weaken a tree, don't they? Or is it that you have come to admire how a tree with its roots exposed can still stand tall? Certainly when the roots or our pain remain hidden,especially from ourselves, it is difficult to heal.

    Please draw a new tree.

    1. Yeah, I agree with you about the ambiguity of this image - maybe that's why I've been so drawn to it for so long, trying to figure out why trees like this are so striking to me. I do admire that they are still standing even after some of the soil has been eroded away, but it's more than that. I suppose the tree (if it thinks) is always "aware" of its own roots, but WE (the rest of the world) aren't able to see those roots until they're exposed. Maybe, we think we know a tree when all we can see is the tall strong trunk and branches, but there's all this under the surface that is really what is keeping it tall and strong.


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