As early as the 1500s, “you can’t see the forest for the trees” was in wide enough use that it was published in collections of proverbs and slang. As anyone who has been in a forest knows, it can be easy to fall into the trap of just looking at the individual trees, rather than considering the forest as a whole.

Is it really that easy to forget the larger picture if you can only see part of it? Do we forget we are in a city because we’re looking at a building? Really?

72-False Autumn-Amherst-River_046

I live in a forest. Not an allegorical or metaphorical one. The real deal. Mainly oak. Some sassafras, maple, and beech. A hint of pine. We used to have a walnut tree, but it went down in a hurricane a few years back.

If you live in a woods, it’s hard to see the forest, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know it’s there. Unless you looking down from above, you can never see a whole forest. But we deduce, infer, assume the larger picture.

Whether or not you can see it changes nothing. You eyes see trees, but your brain knows otherwise. Not seeing the whole picture does not mean you don’t know there is one

window late afternoon

How many trees I can see from my house depends on where I am. From the back deck, I see forest. Fewer trees from the front or side of the house. But what’s the difference between the forest and the trees? Isn’t a forest just a bunch of trees? How many trees do you need before it’s a forest (rather than a bunch of trees)? Is there a definition?


Despite this, I bet you can tell the different between a group of trees and a forest every time, without assistance.

We don’t need to see the whole forest to know it’s there.

Parts of things embody the spirit of the whole. This is how we understand our world and ourselves. No matter what piece you look at, you retain awareness of its connection to something larger. We are individuals, but part of a family, a company, clan, tribe. Humanity as a whole. Without this fundamental grasp of reality, we could not live in the world.


So how do you know whether you’re looking at a single tree, or the edge of a forest? Look around. If you see more trees, put your money on “forest.” If you see a parking lot or a giant Walmart sign? Think “mall.”

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all of us!

2 thoughts on “TREES AND THE FOREST”

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