Photo by Nick Fullerton
I have always been grateful for the kind and quiet companionship of trees. Embodying a long, steady arc of wisdom, they bear witness to the ever-changing dynamics of wind, weather, animals and larger cycles of time unfolding on this planet.
My awareness of how truly deep and wide their wisdom is was amplified in these last couple of months. In a walk not long ago, I was caught up in my own mental swirling and a bit of emotional anguish. Head down, not paying too much attention to the woods surrounding me, along came a gentle yet distinct “tap” on my shoulder! Stopping in my tracks, I looked up and close beside me was a beautiful, stately ash tree. A brief “conversation” unfolded, the gist of which went something like this:
Hell-o there my friend. Nice to see you….ah, yes there is much happening! Feel sad, feel mad and a bit crazy too, but don’t forget to look up, look around. Life rises in all its myriad forms, they live, they die and the cycles repeat. All is well – when you take the long view – all is well. We are here. You are here. It’s a beautiful day.
Smiling, I began to laugh and turned in a slow circle giving a nod and a wave to the “tree beings” - young and old, of all shapes and sizes - in this beautiful hardwood forest of New England. My step was lighter following these moments of communion and my heart swelled with gratitude for the amazing companions we call trees.
Not surprisingly, the following piece written by Herman Hesse entitled “On Trees” came into my hands. Settle into this prose in honor of the “standing ones” which grace our planet.
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and in groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farm boy knows the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do no preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be Still! Be Still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”
May these thoughts and images be carrier waves upon which you can linger and listen and learn.
Peri & Barbara