I’m not sure exactly what this love affair I have with trees is all about.
I was born and bred city-like, and certainly not in the wilderness. I don’t have supernatural kinship with or vast knowledge about my leafy friends, and I haven’t advocated on their behalf nearly as much as I have in my soul.
But there it is. I love trees.
I used to climb the ones in our yard with my sister; I remember a crabapple one, but there were others.
On field trips, my fellow classmates and I delighted in helping to extricate the sweet sap of maple syrup from trees we pretty much worshipped. (I’m Canadian that way.)
Much later, I would walk late at night, for hours at a time, to clear my head and release the pent-up, confused emotions percolating inside me. Sometimes I’d end up in a ravine near my apartment, where I’d collapse against a tree and cry, or think or just wonder about so many things.
Sometimes I’d place my hand a little bit away from the tree to feel the heat coming off of it, and this soothed me, a lot. The trees seemed to know so much more than me, without the means of intellect.
Once, on a meditation retreat, I was eating my lunch (not so mindfully), and staring out the window at a short, wide tree in front of me. I became convinced that this tree was a visual rendering of the meaning of life, its roots so firmly planted in the ground and its thin, crooked branches, intertwining madly, reaching out in all directions as if hopelessly lost in a tailspin of thought, so far away from the earth.
We can project any number of things onto a tree, but in the end, a tree is a tree; gorgeous and strong, existing upright between the ground and the sky.
A few years ago on my first trip to India, I dreamt I was sitting under the Bodhgaya tree—a distant relative of the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Even in my fantasies I’m not capable of imagining enlightenment, but all I wanted was to sit in the presence of this tree.
Bodhi trees are gorgeous in the way they can spread so symmetrically around. They look so assured.
We had already come and gone from Bodhgaya, but we went back, in the middle of the hottest of hot seasons, and my dream came true. Nothing terribly momentous happened, but of course this is the point. Sometimes we expect too much and we try to reach too far (trees don’t do that.) The challenge is to recognize the magic of the very simple fact of being, despite the extraordinariness of our environment.
It was so humbling to rest by a gargantuan tree, magnified all the more by the centuries of legend coloring it holy; just trying to feel myself breathing, alive, and part of an ancient, magnificent cycle of living and dying on this planet of ours.
The gift of trees:
Being with them, breathing the same air they do, finding our relationship to them, playing in forests, swinging from branches, tasting freedom, remembering to be free.
I guess I have thought about why I love trees so much.
The other day I came across the 1973 animated film version of Shel Silverstein’s best-selling 1964 children’s book, The Giving Tree. Silverstein narrates (in perfect tone) and plays the harmonica.
Grab some tissues, sit back and watch a most sensational she-tree live and breathe compassion; and enjoy.
P.S. It’s not quite the same without the book’s illustrations, but if you want to absorb more of the word-deliciousness, you can read the text here.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory / Editor: Bryonie Wise