Posted by: sharemore1 | January 2, 2012

Reflections on an Ancient Cypress

Ancient Cypress

New Years is a time for reflection.  As I straddle the years, looking forward and back, I am drawn to the memory of an ancient cypress I saw on our last day in Jinhua, China.

According to legend, King Wu-Yue Wang planted the tree some 1,100 years ago.  Over the years, King Wang’s successors grabbed and held power until they were overthrown by others with more power.  In one particularly bloody era about 20 million people were killed in battle.

The courtyard that now surrounds the cypress tree is within a palace build by one of those generals, King Li Shi-Xian, in 1861.  Artifacts displayed in the palace evoke some of the battles that sullied the kingdom.  Three-pronged spears look more useful for pitching hay than killing enemies.  Small cannons appear limited in how far they could lob their shot.  Warfare was personal then, requiring that you get close to your adversary to slay him.

Three-Pronged Spears

Old Guns

The kings, generals and soldiers are long gone, but the cypress tree lives on, a silent witness to more than a millennium of Chinese history. The tree stands tall, but not straight, its cracked bark gnarled and stained with moss.  It seems barely alive until you follow the trunk upward.  Like an old lady supported by a walker, the cypress leans on a concrete brace as it reaches toward the sky.  The crown of green leaves shows that life still flows within the old body.  Even for a hardy species, this cypress has surpassed all expectations.  The tree that symbolizes bodily death and spiritual immortality simply refuses to die.

Reaching to the Sky

What could this tree teach us about choices we make in our own lives, I wonder?  It would surely whisper about the ephemeral nature of ambition, power and conquest.  By example, it might strengthen our gritty will to live and remain true to ourselves despite adversity.  But if we strive to find our own immortality without dying, the cypress will likely keep silent.  The odds are that it will be here long after we have been forgotten.

(Thanks to our friend Professor Xuding Zhu who organized our trip in Jinhua and helped with my research on the history of the region.)


  1. Sharon – thank you for your reflections as we begin a new year. May you and yours have a wonderful new year.

  2. Sharon,
    Pithy as always. The tree is a profound symbol of perseverance and preservation. Thank you

  3. Great post. Got me thinking. I’d like to believe that in this age of global climate change caused by man, the old cypress tells us that nature will outlast man’s petty struggles and ambitions.

  4. Sounds like an enchanting place to visit. I appreciate your thoughtful reflections on all that went before.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to this ancient tree that’s seen so much in a lifetime. I like the comparison to the old lady supported by a walker. What secrets an old tree could tell. Great post, Sharon.

  6. Hi Sharon,
    Thanks again for keeping us posted on your travels. Your thoughtful observations are a treat to read and images great to view. We tend to forget or never have the chance to learn about the struggles in our global past…if that tree could only speak….but then maybe it did,
    Tom and Sheryl

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