Willows at Sunset. Van Gogh. Wikimedia Commons.
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Here we are in the depths of a global crisis. This must be a time for deep and earnest self-reflection and for new learning, about ourselves and about life.
As we look around us and see so much suffering, so much pain, we might turn to nature for some kind of healing, some sort of understanding.
I want to reveal to you what we can learn from trees, for they have much to teach us.
“Trees do not preach learning and precepts. They preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
In this post and in the next, I will include some beautiful poems and some wondrous art to illustrate the points that I make.
What Is It About Trees That Is So Wise?
Trees have many remarkable qualities that can inspire and instruct us on life. Since time immemorial, people have used trees to express aspects of their inner and outer worlds.
We are drawn to trees, gardens and forests, as they offer us peace and succour; when amongst them we can think, dream, create, learn.
What is it about trees that is so inspiring to us? What are the mystical connections that we have with them? What are some of their qualities that we can learn from?
1. Peace, Beauty, Wisdom, Serenity And Stillness.
Trees are soothing and palliative, offering us their peace and their quiet whisperings when we are sad or isolated.
Mary Oliver’s poem, above, inevitably reminds us that the sudden lockdown at the onset of this pandemic emphasised how hurried our lives had been.
The stillness we experienced was a dramatic contrast to the frenetic nature of life before. The traffic noise abated, the birds seemed to sing louder and we could hear all the sounds of nature in stereo.
In the springtime of the year, when we were locked down in our homes and gardens, the trees, heavy with leaf and flower, like Mary Oliver’s poetic trees, did indeed urge us to linger, to ‘Stay Awhile.‘
Van Gogh. Blossom Trees. Flickr.
The message of Oliver’s poem is that the trees can save her. From them, she can learn how to ‘walk slowly, and bow often,’ and how to appreciate the world, develop her inner light and offer peace and shelter to others.
2. Glimpsing Reflections of Humanity: Renewal, Hope, Empowerment, Resilience And Wisdom.
Trees do reflect humanity and the human life cycle. Somehow, they have a knowing quality, born of longevity, experience and a kind of meditational, silent calmness.
We internalise their spirituality and their magic; it is as if they become a part of our inner world.
“We all have forests on our minds. Forests unexplored, unending. Each one of us gets lost in the forest, every night, alone.”
Ursula K. Le Guin
‘The sun was already declining and each of the trees held a premonition of night.’
‘I have tried to paint as tho’ they were human beings … because I sincerely love & worship trees & know that they are people & wonderfully beautiful people.’
Paul Nash. 1912.
In contrast, in his war painting We Are Making A New World, 1918, he expresses the destruction and futility of war through dead trees.
We Are Making A New World, 1918. Paul Nash. Wikimedia Commons.
Yet he also recognises that, whilst some might decay or die, trees are resilient and strong and can recover from difficult times.
Like us, they suffer trauma and are wounded, and like us, they may survive and bear the scars, growing and developing, maybe emerging even stronger.
This is where trees can give us hope, of renewal and regeneration.
“For it is the young tree grown out of the old root which shall illuminate what the old tree has been in its wonders.’
Paul Nash. The Corner. ArtUk.Org.
Otto Modersohn – Autumn on the Moor  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
We can learn from the way trees speak to us. As we listen to their rustling leaves, what have they to say ?
“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.”
Thomas Hardy, ‘Under the Greenwood Tree.’
Claude Monet – Bordighera  Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr
As I sit now against the trunk of an old tree, I strain to hear its wisdom, echoing across the years…..
Van Gogh. Tree Roots In A Sandy Ground. Wikimedia Commons.
Listen as this ancient tree shares its wisdom with me. I hear it saying:
“Be still, be patient, do not hurry. I have lived long and seen much. I have secrets to share.”
“Be strong, listen to the lessons of history. Remember, learn, move on…“
“Your scars are evidence of your resilience. You survived difficulties in the past, you can do so again now.”
“Have hope for the future. The world can be productive and beautiful again.”
“Learn to let go when the time is right. There is always the promise of a new year.”
“Touch me and feel into the past, take strength from your roots, reach for the sky; now hug me and feel my strength and solidity, it will comfort you.”
“You too can achieve a little growth each day, just like I do.”
3. ‘Memory-Trees’ : Remembrance, Timelessness and Longevity.
“Trees are as close to immortality as the rest of us ever come.”
Karen Joy Fowler
A tree lends itself to having a powerful mnemonic function. It is there, sturdy, proud and upright, a testimony to an event, or a signifier of the loss of a brave citizen or a loved person.
I like to call these ‘memory trees.’
Imprinted within a tree’s trunk are the secret life-lines of its existence in the world, etched for posterity like the grooves on an old LP record….. except they cannot be ‘played.’
If we were somehow able to ‘play back’ these calendric tree circles, what would they tell us? Imagine the deep and sonorous voice of an ancient tree, telling us its stories….
Now put yourself right into the centre of this image below in your mind and think about this tree’s long existence…Feel into the years of wisdom and experience that are concealed forever within its ancient time-lines…….
” It is valuable and disturbing to know that grand oak trees can take three hundred years to grow, three hundred years to live and three hundred years to die. Such knowledge, seriously considered, changes the grain of the mind.
Thought, like memory, inhabits external things as much as the inner regions of the human brain. When the physical correspondents of thought disappear, then thought, or its possibility, is also lost. When woods and trees are destroyed — incidentally, deliberately — imagination and memory go with them. W.H. Auden knew this. ‘A culture,’ he wrote warningly in 1953, ‘is no better than its woods.”
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
Next week’s post continues the theme of Trees and their value to us.
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