Lovely. This piece is in direct response to FusunA’s blog post titled: Genesis. To say it inspired me would be like saying a master chef thinks cooking is just okay as something to do. To that extent, I attempted to write a comment on her post and ended up creating what follows. I realized that I was actually creating a blog post of my own, because of what FusunA had written (and photographed.)
So, as FusunA has inspired me – nay opened up some hidden reserve of creative fire – let this be an homage of trees to FusunA’s “Genesis.” I present to you:
If I Were A Tree, Oh What Kind of a Tree I Would Be!
I often converse with the trees where I am. Folks who can learn to listen to the trees and the wind learn that you don't have to rush around all hectic to be in a hurry. You learn that hurry means something completely different.
I hurry out to the trees to listen to them, the birds, the literal hum in the air of insect life and the whispers of branches, twigs and leaves. I hurry to stare into the gnarled old branches of the towering oak, to realize it began from a single acorn at one point. Or there is a rush of understanding that sometimes those great oaks are simply a communal set of saplings, grown and fused together over time, symbolizing the bundle of sticks being stronger together as one than each of them separately.
To stare at broken boughs, themselves worthy of the moniker "tree" in their own right, stuck in the still strong limbs below their breaking point and just -- MARVEL -- at their resilience, tenacity and determination to continue to live. (You know I can't riff this unless I truly believe it. No-one can spin this out as fast as they can type if they're only attempting to be clever.)
I climb trees still to this day and I am fifty-one. If I can shinny up the bole, I'll climb dang near any tree. I will certainly do so in order to get any of my disc-golf discs higher than I can reach. I'll even happily take another stroke if I don't have to harm the tree to get my discs. Less happy if I can’t reach it without damaging the tree, because I’ll leave my disc instead.
I am so conscious of nature that I have a hard time walking and blazing a trail on my property. I could be stepping on all sorts of bugs (except I don't mind if I smoosh a dozen or thirty fire ants every step) or breaking plants that are pretty flowering natives, or that I'm bending and breaking the grass stalks. I worry about my damaging effect in nature.
Then I wise up. I recognize that I am overly conscious to the point of ridiculous anxiety with regard to my impact on the world around me. I still think in wondrous childlike concepts when I'm out in nature. Hopefully, though, it is tempered, like the Sequoia Redwood, through the experience of a fully-committed-to-life life wherein I see the sweep of things over time.
I think in larger and longer terms than a mere decade or score of years and still enjoy each moment, even those that are painful or full of sorrow. I do so, because I am, like the Lodgepole pine in Rocky Mountain Granite, clinging to life; and each living moment -- good or bad -- shapes me into the strong and healthy tree I had to become in order to survive in the first place. There is strength still in these limbs.
As much as I love trees and have loved them all my life, I am still being “taught” by trees in all sorts of ways. You’d think I could recite all sorts of tree types and such like – and mostly you’d be right – but these days it’s what I know in general about all trees and plants that really makes me marvel at the miracle that is plant life. More so, it’s not what I know about trees, it’s what I know from them.
Trees taught me all sorts of things. They taught me that scrapes and bruises are pretty easy to get, sometimes no matter how careful you are, so don’t fret and explore your limits. They taught me about physics, motion and gravity in all manner of ways. I learned how hard it was to get your head whacked by a branch, or to get slammed in the gut, chest or thigh as your lesson in “free-fall” wasn’t so free of object lessons on the way down. I learned that not closing my eyes and doing my best to grab hold, spin and use softer parts of me to hit things on the way down was better as a survival skill than simply screaming as you fell.
I learned to curb my over-impetuous actions due to the lessons taught to me by my tree teachers. I developed what I call the Three Limb Rule: Never have less than Three Limbs of yours on the Limbs of the Tree. In other words, I learned that, even fast clambering up a tree required three solidly connected limbs of yours, hanging cleanly onto some part of the tree. Unless you were planning on leaping out of the tree or practicing some other skill like hanging by your arms -- or if walking a narrow beam was something you were interested in doing -- you kept two hands and a foot; or two feet and a hand on something while the fourth limb searched for contact.
I have stared deep into the open holes within the trees. I have sometimes found beehives inside of them, hanging from them or even found -- once -- what appeared to be a still living tree being used as a beehive of tremendous proportions. I’ve fallen out of and jumped out of so many trees that I came to believe I was possibly part squirrel. These experiences have changed me fundamentally. I cannot relate to people who don’t respect trees and how much they offer us in so many ways.
How many times have I picked up a leaf off the ground, felt its texture, inspected its veins and patternings in the shape of the leaf itself? I cannot say, for I have long ago lost count. Yet each time brings to me a new sense of astounded wonder. The more I learned about biology and botany, the more awestruck I became. Answer me, all the science in the world so far, "How does life start?"
Isn’t it amazing that we can, as living things, come to a point of consciousness that we can reflect on the meaning of our ability to be conscious and reflect that it brings to us – or should – that sense of wonder at the amazingly miraculous series of events that it took to get us from single cells to what we are now: complex, multicellular constructs, known as organs and tissues, all working in a synergistic and cooperative fashion to allow the mind to function in such a way as to be able to understand all that on a technical level – and still wonder, “How did we get here?” And it’s all right there in one package. In the depths of a single acorn, or the plethora of potential in a pinecone there lies this wonder of life.
Yggdrasil, the Tree of Life and the World Tree all have several things in common, irrespective of which culture, ancient tribal people or country wishes to think they can lay claim to having come up with the symbology in the first place. In all such depictions of these trees, the roots go as deeply down and wide underground as do the boughs and branches spread up and out into the sky. The half-and-half composition reflects in Celtic, Nordic, Teutonic, Gallic and Saxon myths and legends in much the same way as the Yin and Yang symbol of the Far East portrays the balance between light and dark, above and below, life and death, positive and negative energies, harmoniously represented in an equal share of the symbology.
In most every culture on the planet, the tree has figured highly as a symbol of long life, strength, comfort and fertility. All ancient and Shamanic tribal cultures that lived amongst or near them revered the spirit of the tree. When trees were cut down, they were cut down whilst giving thanks for what they would provide for those who took them. They thanked the spirit of the trees for their gifts that would give them survival through fire, tools, shelter and defense. The cost was the life of the tree.
I believe in those spirit manifestations. Not in the tribal sense that there’s a spirit or nymph or sylph living in each tree, that’s just silly – even if it’s a nice fantasy story mechanic. No; I mean: in the sense that we recognize the spirit of living things in general, perhaps in the Earth itself as a living organism a la the Gaia Hypothesis.
The Gaia Hypothesis is basically this: The Earth is essentially a complex “living” organism. It includes, as components of it’s structure, all living things on its surface. It might not qualify as a sentient being, mind you, but it could arguably be claimed that, due to the complexity and efficiency of regulatory systems, acting as organs and tissues to the planet -- in much the same way our heart, lungs, spleen, kidneys and stomach do for us -- to help by operating in a synergistic and cooperative way to support the planet itself. In this respect it is, in some sense, “alive.”
But let’s get back to trees. Have you ever really looked at the barks of trees? No two tree species has the same bark. Sure, you’ve seen one tree you’ve seen them all. Hah! Check out the difference in the pattern and texture of a Coconut Palm with an Aspen. Even the leaves are completely different. See the simplicity of evergreen needles and compare them to the large and complexly lobed White Oak leaves.
I used to watch trees swaying in the wind, wondering, "How hard did the wind have to blow to break them off?" I’ve seen trees that had large, gnarled and thick boughs that had all been broken off about ten feet from the bole of the tree. The resultant shoots off the end of those boughs acted like tiny branches. Most of them, as nature designed them to do, went up straight, looking for more light. The tree -- broken but not done -- lived on.
I’ve seen forest fires ravage literally thousands of acres of woods in just a few hours. At first glance, it all looks like it’s gone forever. But wait! Many trees in such situations, if they are older, can outlive the fire, losing leaves and smaller branches. The deeper and thicker boughs and bole survive, sending out sprigs of green shoots only days after the first rains in the appropriate season.
And look! On the ground! Shoots of seedlings popping up all over! But wasn’t there a huge fire, burning everything in it’s path, destroying the forest? Yes, and it’s been going on for so much longer than mankind has been around that, slow as they may seem, the forests, the trees themselves, have adapted to even making fire a reason to grow.
Tree seeds are hardy things. Some lay dormant, still viable for years, getting buried under the seasonal fall of leaves, rains and dust over time. A fire comes through and now the heat cooks off most of the grounjd cover and possibly the outer shell of the seed, or its container, such as a pod or cone. This seems to activate the seed and the next series of rains, combined with more sunlight (the fire has burned off the undercover and the overstory of foliage) makes the seed produce a shoot – because of the fire. Ingenious!
The Tree’s symbology as earlier noted, also indicates the necessity for strong roots, combined with branches reaching up, attempting to go higher and get more light. Wow, that could never be a metaphor for wisdom, right? You know, a broad base of solid and well-known experiential information combined with the practicality of realizing knowing more is always a good thing, too. It’s just as applicable to the idea of science, wherein we ask questions, make observations and take nothing for granted. Rooted in rational and measurable facts, but willing to expand, question its limits as well as its foundational principles to ensure it stays healthy, growing and strong.
As much as we have learned and as much as we realize we know now that, in the past, we simply didn’t comprehend about life, we still don’t really know how it starts, why it’s here or what processes, in their variety, help to engender a planet, rich with living things, both plant and animal from pole to pole, literally. Through all this life, this growing, thriving, teeming place, the trees and plants have been genetic and descendant witness through most if not all of it on the surface of the land. That's some staying power.
If we could but listen to the trees, learning their wisdom, their experiences, oh what a different mind man would have. We’d hesitate to take life, simply because we’d understand how potentially important each living thing is. We may learn new ways to exist, to work, to play, to grow if we only stopped long enough to listen to the whispers of the leaves as the breeze slides gently between each leaf, lobe and each expanse of chlorophyll laced biological solar power collectors.
I listen to the trees. I hear what they’re saying. The information has changed me. If I could describe to you any better their message than what I have poorly attempted to convey here, you also would be changed. You wouldn’t be able to help it. So, don’t take my word for it, go find out for yourself.
Listen to the trees. Don’t be in a hurry; trees have their own sense of time and it doesn’t fit with what’s inside your digital wristwatches, clocks in your phones, or the timing hum of your GPS tracking device. If you open yourself up to this holistic form of cross species, cross kingdom communication, you’ll come to a knowing of a wisdom deeper even than the roots of your own Yggdrasil and stretching higher than any branch can reach.
You will be changed. This change is permanent. It is good. Learning to listen to the trees brings you and everyone who can or does, that much closer to a communion of spirit that includes all life. That sort of growth, however, takes the time and patience of those who truly seek that growth. You have been invited, Oak, Ash and Pine have all told me so.