Tree Stumps in the Night: Destruction & Hope in the time of COVID-19 / Robin B. Zeiger

(Published on Medium website, April 7th, 2020)

I have become fascinated with tree stumps during this current world-wide pandemic. Only last week, I learned that sometimes plants take root on old stumps. And perhaps more importantly some stumps (e.g., of deciduous trees) can regenerate.

My fascination with the tree stumps began via a nightmare. I am a prolific dreamer and I dreamt a scary and curious dream in mid-February.
Snippet of the Dream — February 15, 2020.

I was with a patient in my psychotherapy office when I looked outside the window. I was very frightened to discover a row of perfectly cut trees. Only the stumps were left, with no trace of the branches. And somehow, I knew that an alien force had caused this type of very strange and calculated destruction. I then frantically began to prepare to run away to Iceland before it was too late. The rest of the dream was busy with details of how to escape before the alien force sent me somewhere very scary. When I woke up, the dream felt surreal and reminded me of the horrific edicts of the Holocaust.

I was not only frightened by the dream, but I was also fascinated. I have a deep and longstanding belief in the purposefulness of dreams. Time and again, as a psychoanalyst, I discover how very meaningful our night visions are for all of us. Yet, I couldn’t figure out why this dream came to me when it did. Thus, it nagged at me to discover the mystery of it all.

As the pandemic spread and began to severely affect my comings and goings in my own country, I met the dream anew. I could not run away, but oh how I wished I knew how to escape this world nightmare. I began to wonder if my dream, dreamt early on in the world’s story, was somehow preparing me for the alien forces of a super-virus. In fact, I later learned that the very week of my dream, WHO finally gave this coronavirus a name (COVID-19).

But why did I need Iceland? Dreams often bring us images and symbolic language to understand our unconscious fears and wishes. Perhaps Iceland symbolized the farthest place I could imagine. Here I could be safe from the danger. Or perhaps its name suggests a place where I won’t “feel”. I could become numb to the fear and sadness.

The saddest and scariest part of the dream was the tree stumps. For this, I needed something beyond words to meet my nightmarish fear. I painted the “scene from the window of my soul.”

Sometimes the symbolic brings us two sides of the coin. When I “showed” my art to a group of my colleagues on-line, they sent me photos of stumps of hope.

Only yesterday, I discovered a tree stump filled with life within 100 meters of my own house.


Life as we know it is framed with destruction and rebirth. The destruction and death are not easy. Yet, it is in the regeneration that we find hope and vision. With this thought, I must return to Iceland. I have heard about the beauty of that country. I hope someday to see the Northern Lights. Thanks to the miracle of our technology, I am able to “peek” from on-high and imagine. I also learned something else from an internet search. Iceland too has been affected by the pandemic. But all of their approximately 360,000 people are allowed to be tested. Thus, they had begun to collect interesting data about people who are infected but are asymptomatic.

Most of all, I need to look outside and see the miracles of the spring in front of all of us. And it is clear, I need to dream about Iceland and the Northern Lights.

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