My Love Affair With Trees
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.”
– Mary Oliver, Thirst
My first love stood tall and sturdy in front of 18450 Annchester, my childhood home. It was a massive American Elm tree. My early years growing up in Detroit were often spent leaning against that beloved tree or turning my face to it as I counted to twenty, my neighborhood friends scattering and hiding from me while we played Draw a Circle on the Old Man’s Back.
And then one summer morning I walked outside to find nearly every leaf from the tree had fallen to the ground, brown and withered.
I cried in disbelief. My tree had Dutch Elm disease and would soon be cut down and destroyed.
The mighty Elms of Detroit used to form a canopy over the streets, shading us from the hot summer sun.
But in the years to come, the neighborhoods would look naked without these majestic trees–many of which had grown over 100 feet tall.
I scoured old photos for a picture of my precious tree to no avail.
When I wasn’t in the front yard playing around the Elm tree, I was often in our backyard sitting up on a branch of a small old tree which leaned against our garage. I would be reading a book, drawing, or just plain hiding from the world.
No child should have to grow up without a tree nearby to climb, like the mighty Beech tree above.
One of my favorite children’s books, both as a child and as a parent is A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry, lovingly illustrated by Marc Simont. It doesn’t surprise me that this simple little book about trees is still in print after 57 years.
Many years had passed since I’d read it, but one day on a trip to the library with my son when he was young, there it was on the bookshelf! My heart skipped a beat. It was as if I had found an old friend.
“A tree is nice because it has a trunk and limbs.
We can climb the tree and see over all the yards.
We can sit on a limb and think about things.
Or play pirate ship up in the tree.”
Many years later when I was married and living in a suburb of Detroit, I found myself once again surrounded by beautiful Elms.
One late summer afternoon, a tornado blew through our neighborhood and in just a matter of seconds, the storm changed the landscape of our street forever.
Able to bend with the wind, the little trees survived–but many of the tall Elms snapped in half.
When we ventured outside we saw the fallen trees laying across the road like a logging company had been there. Even as an adult, I cried.
My friend, Mary, who still lives around the corner has one of these precious Elms in her front yard. The roots have pushed the sidewalk up and I’m sure she’s been asked to fix it. But she watches over that tree like a mother bear with her cub. It’s that precious. I get to hug it when I go back to Michigan to visit.
What is it about trees that make us fall in love with them?
Why do we treasure them so?
One of the first things I learned when I began studying energy medicine was how grounding they are, and just being in their presence can connect us to our beloved Mother Earth.
I remember the first time my teacher told us to go outside and hug a tree, or lean against it if we were feeling anxious, depressed or ungrounded.
Admittedly, I thought it was a bit strange at first. Of course, I did that instinctively as a young child but had forgotten as an adult just how healing it can be.
There is a tremendous force of energy around trees that they willingly share with us.
Trees can teach us much about ourselves and our connection to nature.
They are sturdy but yielding, as we should strive to be.
“Be strong” they whisper, no matter your size. Remember the little trees in the storm that survived while the larger trees didn’t.
My favorite yoga posture is Vrksasana, or tree pose, which seems at first to be simply about balance. But it’s also about being rooted, centered and yielding, just like a tree.
Trees go through cycles of birth and rebirth, as do we. They do it effortlessly, though, without fighting nature’s plan.
They don’t say “I don’t want to rest” or “I don’t want to blossom”. They just do.
According to Ayurveda, we are one with the nature that surrounds us and in fact, made of the same elements. We can learn a great deal by paying attention to the natural rhythms we witness in the presence of trees. I think the reason I have always loved living somewhere with four seasons is because I am equally enraptured with each transition–the budding branches that burst open in blossoms or leaves in springtime, the gift of shade that summer brings, the blazing colors of autumn and the naked stillness of winter.
We can learn a great deal by paying attention to the natural rhythms we witness in the presence of trees. I think the reason I have always loved living somewhere with four seasons is because I am equally enraptured with each transition–the budding branches that burst open in blossoms or leaves in springtime, the gift of shade that summer brings, the blazing colors of autumn and the naked stillness of winter.
I think the reason I have always loved living somewhere with four seasons is because I am equally enraptured with each transition–the budding branches that burst open in blossoms or leaves in springtime, the gift of shade that summer brings, the blazing colors of autumn and the naked stillness of winter.
Trees that become part of our history remain our friends forever. No matter where I am in the world, if I see a birch tree or smell a forest of Pine trees, I am immediately transported to Northern Michigan where I have vacationed with my family my entire life.
The Birch trees support my trusty hammock for a week every summer and the Pine trees are my aromatherapy.
And when I stand under a Weeping Willow, I am that little budding artist who always liked drawing them.
But perhaps the best story I’ve saved for last. Before my partner, Ralph passed on we used to ride our bikes down by the Hudson River to our favorite tree. It was all the way down the bike path where there is a lawn with the Statue of Liberty in plain sight.
I would sit under the tree in the shade reading while Ralph always opted for the hot sun, listening to his music.
After he died I received many letters and cards from an organization that I volunteered with, writing weekly letters to people who were sick or just lonely. Now it was my turn to receive, and the letters came flooding in. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from total strangers.
One day I decided to go for a bike ride and I grabbed a pile of unopened mail. I biked down to the river and rounded the corner by our tree only to find a hole where it had once been. I was in shock.
The tree seemed so healthy–perhaps it had come down during a recent storm. I started to cry (What is it with me and trees?) and hopped back on my bike. I found another tree down the way, not quite as beautiful, but this one had a little opening in it where three trunks came together and a fourth had been cut down, leaving a little seat. Perfect, I’ve since discovered, for reading, meditating and people-watching.
I opened the first letter and this is what I saw. A beautiful card with a forest of Pine trees and a quote by William Shakespeare: “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” I opened the card and read:
“In your name, a tree is being planted. Barbara Sinclair and her beloved partner are being honored with the gift of a tree, planted in one of our National Forests. This gift comes to you from Circle of Love. Your tree, a gift that endures, will help replenish a magnificent forest and preserve the habitat of the wildlife that call it their home.”
Synchronicity. One of those little miracles that happen every day through our love for each other and the world around us, including, of course, our trees! Surely you have a beautiful tree story of your own. I would love it if you would share one with me!
“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree.”
– Place by W.S. Merwin