It’s Earth day (and later in the week Arbor day) so I’ll take a moment to acknowledge one of my favorite of Earth’s inventions: Trees. As corny as it seems, I have a deep love for trees. They provide our homes, give us warmth, and allow us a reprieve from the sun. But these wonderful inventions of Nature are much more than a utilitarian plant to me; they are my brothers and sisters.
My first experience with trees was climbing them as a child. Right away I learned that they offer solace. As a kid (the sixth in a family of seven) I remember scaling an aged elm tree at the side of our house and sitting high in its branches, the perfect escape from a noisy and busy house. I reveled in the solitude and quiet. I adored the altered perception of being up off of the ground. It was a form of separation; taking me out of human interaction and transporting me to a world of birds and butterflies, cats and imaginary sloths, where I was always reminded that an entire macrocosm exists beyond the four walls of my home and it bears consideration. Having the heightened perspective of sitting in tree branches also gave me the ability to understand, early on, the smallness of my existence. I would watch cars traverse the freeway at the bottom of the hill our home occupied, thinking how small they were from the angle of my perch. Later on, when studying the vastness of the Universe, this important lesson gave me a strong foundation in the process of comprehending my insignificance within it. I also considered that I was invisible to those cars, I didn’t exist to them, which gave me the opportunity to come to terms with the idea that the world does not revolve around me (dammit!). I loved that elm tree; it housed me from the big scary world and taught me some crucial lessons about it as well.
As an adult, I don’t climb as many trees, but I still rely on them for escape. There is one tree in particular that I seek out. It is an old, old oak tree, so old its branches hang down and brush my shoulders as I walk past them to the inner sanctuary of its trunk, which must be around four feet in diameter. I sit in the small crook where tree meets earth and ponder life with the wisdom and experience of an adult, yet with the same sense of separation and differed perceptions I possessed as a child– open to whatever lessons I might be able to extract from my time meditating there. Trees and I have a completely different relationship now though because I’ve learned more about them.
Nestled in the seam of tree and earth, I let my mind wander to the intimate nuances this tree and I share. We breathe for one another. That which I breathe out is exactly what the oak tree needs to breathe in, and vice versa – it’s a beautiful relationship. I take a moment to note that this living thing has veins, and liquid running through them, just as surely as I do. If I imagine hard enough, I can almost feel our ‘blood’ coursing together and I am reminded, as I was then, that I am as much a part of Nature as this tree that I lean against. My small, fragile spine conforms to the straightness and strength of the tree’s spine and I am not in the least bored with the thought I’ve had a million times before: that arms and legs and trunks exist which are different from mine yet eerily similar. No wonder Tolkien could envision Ents.
Spine to spine, I meditate and think. How many have sat at its trunk over the centuries of its life and found solace in its shadow? How many have sought shelter under its leafy arms from the rain or sun? What stories would it tell me of overcoming harsh winters and dry summers? What wisdom would it offer me about the perception of time and trials? What tales of affection would it tell of housing bird and squirrel families? What would it say about his human form that comes to share its space and time?
“Welcome friend,” I imagine it would say, “sit and keep me company, tell me of your secrets,” – just like a true brother or sister would.