I have been thinking about trees lately.
When I visit “home”, it’s always hard to leave. My family, my friends, the good ol’ places I used to hang out, the smell of the humid air or crisp Fall leaves always beckon me wistfully. But it’s always the trees that really get me. They draw me – with great magnetism – to stay. The trees are what I see when I stare out of the windows of the car as we whiz down the highway. The trees are what my soul reaches for when the airplane takes off, looking like broccoli florets from the air. Even the winter trees, their branches barren and sculptural, often dusted by the snow, extend a plea to come and chat for awhile.
Breath – by J. Daniel Beaudry
Tree, gather up my thoughts
like the clouds in your branches.
Draw up my soul
like the waters in your root.
In the arteries of your trunk
bring me together.
Through your leaves
breathe out the sky.
When I visited home in November, I sat waiting in the car while my Mom delivered some items in preparation for my cousin’s wedding. Nestled in the warmth of the front seat, I gazed at the acres of woods outside our car and could not shift my gaze. Something about those woods made my cry. I saw myself as a little girl, running deftly and barefoot through forests just like them. Then I saw my daughter, doing the same, picking up sticks along the way and rubbing the velvety leaves – gifts of the summer trees.
Trees were part of my childhood, and became players in nature’s rite of passage. I remember the dogwood tree in our yard that blossomed each spring, her flowers alive as they twirled like confetti in the breeze. Each of my siblings learned to climb upon her small, but sturdy trunk. I remember the trees whose dangling vines we’d swing from, closing our eyes and calling out into the wild like Tarzan. I remember the Cedars, whose wet fragrance always reminded us of the majestic Christmas tree we’d hunt in December to display in the living room. The Cedars had dense branches that started out at our ankle level, fanned out in every angle around the trunk, and were perfect for scaling…in them, we could ascend almost to the top, viewing the world as if we were tiny conquerors.
I remember the ancient trees whose trunks were bent at 90 degree angles by the Native Americans to mark the trails. And sometimes, inches under the dirt beneath their canopy, lay smooth arrowheads. These trees spoke to me softly and I would often stand silent in front of them in wordless dialogue. I remember the tree my Father had carved his initials into during his teenage years. He brought all of us back to that spot, foraging through the thick leaves and weeds, and we watched as he added each of our initials.
In Arizona, I smell the offerings of the mesquite trees after a rain, a sweet earthy fragrance. In Spring, the scent of the orange trees fills the concrete parking lots and offers a contrast that softens the landscape. When I vacation to new places, I find I’m often there to visit new trees. I have so much to see still, pulled to the grand redwoods and mysterious Joshua trees of California and the bursting foliage on the trees of the Northeast. I want to nap on a hammock between two native coconut palms in Fiji. I want to curl up in the strong crook of tree who gifted me with the parchment, in which I write a poem for her on. I want to sit under a grove of Eucalyptus trees in Australia, inhaling the healing scents. I want to lean against a pomegranate tree in the Himalayas and graze on its tart, shimmering fruit.
I sometimes envision myself birthing a child under the protective cloak of a tribe of trees.
When I practice balancing yoga poses with MB in the park, my drishti (focal point) always ends up being a knot on a tree that reminds me of an opening, succulent, birthing yoni.
I’ve always dreamed of creating a different kind of cemetery, in which trees of every sort are planted over our ashes. Soon, an orchard of life would be created, one in which our children and all the children after them could rest and laugh and cry and play beneath (or on). We would all continue living – some giving fruit, others dangling with vibrant chimes. As trees, we would bend and bow towards one another in graceful acknowledgement, dancing in celebrating or standing quiet in prayer.
Besides the diverse beauty, trees are perhaps the most incredible providers on Earth. They provide fruit and nuts from their branches, to nourish us. They provide wood from their bark, for shelter, writing, drawing, sitting, creating, and building. Some provide sap from within to sweeten our foods. They provide the leaves of which I enjoy in my daily tea. Their leaves filter dust, absorb carbon dioxide and pollutants and then provide oxygen for us to breathe. The same leaves, when dropped, can make for a comfy bed or a rousing afternoon for children. Those “dead” leaves fertilize the soil, aiding in the cycle of life. Trees provide a place for creatures to nest and burrow and rest. They provide sturdy branches for children to dangle and climb and for hammocks to sling. Their canopies yield shade in the heat of the sun and coverage during a heavy rainstorm. Trees are ornamental and look lovely when strung with lights. Trees are part of the powerful, fierce warmth of fire. They are an instrument, bestowing music as the wind whips through their leaves or become drums and pipes for our native souls. As boats and carriages and carts and wagons, they provide transportation. And trees are a silent witness, giving of themselves, standing watch, guarding and greeting us along our journey, accommodating our needs without expectation. They are the peaceful warriors of our planet.
Do trees not give us every single essential item we need for survival? Food, rest, warmth, shade, sanctuary, shelter, music, exercise, breath?
Are trees perhaps the elusive, timeless gods and goddesses we search for? Do we honor them appropriately? Are they not perfect in every sense of the word? I have never, ever met an angry tree.
Blessings for the trees. May I always honor their sacred greatness, for the way they provide plentiful and abundant gifts, and evoke in me a wave of serenity.
Click on this link to read some beautiful poetry in honor of trees. Or share some of your own poetry or memories of trees.