Events and humankind in general being iffy these days, this seems a good time to talk about trees. I am a tree-hugger to the core. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer for probably never writing a blog as lovely as a tree, herewith.
Other flora and fauna offer unique contributions to the planet and to us planet-dwellers, but The Tree offers food and sustenance, healing, shelter, mystery, wisdom and peace. What can I say? Actually, Fred Hageneder says it pretty well in the introduction to his latest book, The Living Wisdom of Trees. After listing things we humanoids aspire to such as “extending compassion, feeling gratitude, and love for fellow inhabitants of the planet,” Hageneder holds that trees show us “life is worth so much. Trees and humankind,” he points out, “have always had a symbiotic relationship.” (I’m going to hope I haven’t misrepresented the good botanist/ scholar/ author; he writes great books.)
There’s the Tree of Knowledge, for example, and do we ever need it today. Separating good from evil has unfortunately gotten terribly tricky.
Not to mention the Tree of Life (some people say the two are one and the same, but two trees are always better than one IMHO.) So many sacred trees run through human history they can boggle the mind – unless the mind simply relaxes into the notion that humans throughout history have tried to make meaning of things and trees help us do that. I mean, there they stand, firmly rooted and gracefully growing to the full extent that Mother Nature allows.
The cousin of a close friend is working on a tree-centric ancestry book, and gave permission for me to quote from it. Here’s what Mary Gilchrist of Iowa City, Iowa writes: “Arriving in Iowa in 1880, my grandfather’s grandfather and his brother were measuring their land and stuck a stick that the latter had cut for a walking stick into the ground in order to mark the boundary. As cottonwoods will do, the stick took root and grew to a majestic size. When the road was moved a bit, the tree was smack dab in the middle of the intersection. Prized on the Great Plains, the cottonwood tree was left in that intersection, nestled in the area which also housed members of the Troublesome Creek Gang, aka the Crooked Creek Cowboys, who terrorized the area until shootouts ended their rampages.” Those cousins still gather around that tree for periodic photo ops, and perhaps to give silent thanks.
My own affections are more fickle, as they jump from tree to tree. At the start of my MFA program (University of San Francisco, Class of ’00) we were assigned the task of writing an autobiographical narrative. An interesting project at any age, creating something essentially true and minimally boring at 60-something which I then was – whew. Fifty pages max. But it turned out at least essentially true and minimally boring.
FAMILY TREES, it’s titled. Early on it tells about Willie Oak, the giant Virginia Oak around which my kid-gang gathered when I was six or seven or so. Named for Mrs. Inez Hatcher’s gardener (who could climb higher and swing farther than any of us,) Willie Oak was located on a large, grassy vacant lot next to Mrs. Hatcher’s house and centered an entire social system. It offered limbs to climb, a tire swing secured from a high branch, shelter on hot summer days and the freedom to create around these – pretty much out of sight of parents or passing grown-ups. Then there were the plum trees in our back yard whose fragrance was beyond glorious and whose fruit regularly made us sick because who can sit in a tree full of ripe plums and not overeat? And the leafy maples for sitting and reading in, while also eavesdropping on passersby who had no idea a small person was up there hidden and listening.
Later there was the elegant, matriarchal magnolia (which I also climbed, although 40-some years older by then,) in the front yard of a post-divorce Dutch Colonial. And lastly the majestic Monterey Pine my good final husband Bud had planted in a small basket years before. By the time I took up writing residency in a fourth floor studio it was flourishing outside my window, hosting bees and butterflies and lovely Anna’s Hummingbirds; if bees and butterflies and hummingbirds in tall pines can’t inspire a writer, nothing can.
Need a good New Year’s resolution? Hug a Tree