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Nature can be festive with its vibrant colors, especially against the subdued palate of winter. The cypress trees along the creek turn a beautiful cinnamon color in winter. Their branches make a fountain of orangish brown above the creek, like the spray of silent fireworks celebrating the new year.

Cypress trees are caregivers of the creek. Their strong roots hold back the bank, preventing erosion, especially when the water is flowing fast. Our engineering work along the bank used stone and concrete to reduce erosion.  When the creek came up quickly after a storm, the strong force of the water lifted the engineered erosion control. What kept the layered stonework from being carried away were the strong tree roots that held it back.

Before we had the cypress trees, fast moving water would cut away the bank and strip it of vegetation. Now the bank holds steady.

Caregivers are the cypress trees in their environments. You preside over the situation and don’t appear to be doing much until things start to go awry. When things start heading in a bad direction, you step in, taking early action to prevent the avalanche of catastrophe.

Your patient often doesn’t see the problem you averted. Instead she sees you making changes and telling her what to do or not, as if you know best. Since she is mentally compromised by her disease, she doesn’t think she needs you to help or intervene, and this can make for a pretty high stress and thankless situation.

What you might not notice right away is that to the left of the cypress tree is a clump of brushy bluestem, one of our native bunch grasses. While the cypress are the big, visible workers in bank stabilization, they have help. The bank is lined with tiny plants with little root systems all doing their part, working with the cypress to hold back the bank.

You too, have small support systems in place. Just last week you called a friend for help, saying you just needed a break. He came in the morning and took your patient on a day of activities, promising not to return till late afternoon. Finding a way to take a break like that is relying on your ecosystem instead of doing all the work yourself.

Lean into the ecosystem you have built. Yes, you have deep roots and you are on the caregiving front line, but when you don’t feel up to the task others are willing to help. They can do small things, but those small things make a big difference for you. It has been tiring to build this support network, and it is constantly coming unwound in places and requiring maintenance, but because you have grown an ecosystem, you don’t have to be the hero every day.

Shirk some small responsibility today, one that someone else just might pick up and do.

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