The Secret Lives of Trees
When I first associate a word with the thought of a tree the word I choose is life. I think that is because of the long and persistent connection of trees to the diversity of life itself, to the enduring metaphor of the tree of life. Life in its nearly incomprehensible complexities and endless branching in pursuit of survival is neatly contained in the poetry of trees and their complex web of branches reaching out to touch the sky or one another as we reach up to touch them in an instinctual touch that recalls our simian heritage. It recalls a time when we grasped closely to their branches and their branches were our architecture and the forest was our city. We stood at the end of massively cantilevering branches and looked down from the height and looked out at the gap and gradually overcame our fear before jumping. When fear overcame us we retreated deep into the high leafy canopy hugging the branches or running across the networked highway of limbs in the tree tops. Trees are still shelter. The shade they provide filters the sun and the foliage absorbs the rain.
By itself a tree can provide a space. Together trees create a space and an atmosphere. The air is cooler and the light softer as it streams through the cracks and crevices left between overlapping leaves. Diffuse with moisture and light, the senses and lungs are engaged and relaxed; the pace of breathing relaxed, physical and emotional senses heightened. This space, a grove of trees, is the first clock. Here the turning and tilt of the Earth is projected and magnified. A model for the progression of life is created that we can sit under and marvel at and we can sit and observe the passing of time as the seasons change. Beginning with the first golden leaf, the first piles of colored leaves on the ground, the first bare branches stark against the low angled sunlight, the first new swelling buds every day of time is marked. Decay and birth, time and metabolism happen as the seasons turn and we see it in the shadows and in the calendar of the tree’s wooden heart. Together they make existence, our deepest mystery understandable.
Like time, trees are never still. Like life, they are animated. They make the invisible visible and give voice to the wind. The slightest rustle fills the silence with a reassuring hush. We see ourselves in the trunk with widely reaching branches. We reach for the sky similarly in aspiration. In a world that is constantly shifting, maybe we envy the long durability of a stationary tree that only has to reach out for everything that sustains it as we desperately struggle to sustain ourselves. It endures and thrives in the radiating sunlight and fierce stormy weather. A tree knows the gentle warmth like a kiss on the cheek of a bright sunny day and they are instruments for the patter of gentle rain, condensers of swirling mists. Through them and the bark that is gnarled and carved like the contours of the earth, moisture flows from the canopy from the ponds in the leaves to creeks to rivers to the delta of the roots. Trees are truly the mediators between earth and sky, speaker boxes for natural forces, holders of truths about nature and life, the vessels of songs of sorrow and fertility, and the bearers of the scars of life.
More about trees to follow…