I am staring out the window at my backyard right now, searching my spirit for something meaningful to write for you. But I am distracted by the trees. Here in Georgia, in January, most all the trees are bare. There are a few scraggly Loblolly pines, and two trees wrapped in ever-green kudzu, but that’s all the green we get here in winter. In summer though, the trees dress up in full-bodied, leafy green glory and the songbirds sing and the cicadas drone all season long. It all comes gloriously to life.
But for now, the skeletal trees are bare-branched and patient. That may be why I have always loved trees. They are so patient, and so content. Once rooted, they never move. As a restless spirit, always on the move, I am completely in awe of the stolid, yet joyful spirit of trees. Yes, trees have spirits. Or at the very least, intelligence. You see it in the way they wave their branches in the wind, dancing. You smell it when you sniff around the ground they stand in. You feel it when your arms are around their trunks, your fingers caressing barky skin. You hear it in the life they shelter and nourish — the birds, the squirrels, the insects. And sometimes me.
When I was ten, we lived in San Jose, California for a year. My favorite memory of that year is of sitting on a sturdy branch in the cherry tree in our backyard, reading. And singing. Eating the cherries the tree provided. Memorizing poems. Making some up. I spent hours in that tree. In some ways, I was born in that tree. When we moved up to Sebastopol the year after, we lived surrounded by apple orchards. I wore apple blossoms in my hair to school and ate homemade apple pie for breakfast. I kissed my boyfriend under those apple trees and cantered carefully on my horse down the orchard lanes, trying to avoid getting knocked off by a low branch. I literally loved those life-giving apple trees. I cried when they began pushing over whole orchards to make way for wine grapes.
There were redwood groves not far away. Elder trees, with a completely different spirit than the apple trees. Their tops grazed the sky and their bottoms were so wide, my three siblings and I together couldn’t get our arms around them. They smelled so rich I wanted to eat them. It was reverentially quiet in those groves, but I could almost hear the trees whispering wisdom. Those trees knew things. Some had holes I could fit in, and I would crawl inside the tree and pretend I lived there in that magical forest.
There was a Sequoia tree up north that you could drive your car through. My grandparents drove through it in their Buick in the 1940’s. I have a photograph of our Ford station wagon inside the tree tunnel when I was a child. And another of our minivan when we took our kids there to drive through the tree. It finally fell down this very month in a big California storm. I am still weeping.
I recently listened to this TED talk about how trees talk to each other:
Trees talk to each other! We really know so little about the other life forms that share our planet. Trees, in fact, make it possible for us to live and breathe, to BE here on the planet. Maybe that’s why I love them.
I’m not sure I’ve arrived at anything meaningful today. Maybe the meaning is in this invitation: Go outside right now and hug a tree. And give thanks.