Loving Trees

tree_canopy smAll my life, as far back as I can remember, I have felt a connection with trees. I’ve grasped trunks and branches during youthful climbs and wondered how my hands felt to them. I felt their surface as rough, crumbly, sticky in places with sap, and I wondered if they felt me climbing them as warm, human, fleeting, soft.

One of my earliest memories regarding my family involved a tree. A very tall tree. We lived near the end of a long country road and our yard had a row of tall spruce running along the property line, separating our house and yard from the road. I loved those huge spruce trees and would often climb up to sit, swing and bounce on those sprawling lower branches. For my tiny body of six years those branches made a perfect ladder all the way to the top, and one day I just kept going.

I can still remember the sticky sap that clung to my palms as I reached up to another and then another branch-rung in this ladder to the clouds. That is until the branches were so close together that all I could do was perch on the sturdiest one and hold onto the trunk. It was exhilarating. My heart was happy and excited and I felt so intimately close to that old tree. I felt safe. Cocooned. I even noticed how the breeze made that old tree sway. In my mind it was as if I was nestled in the clouds and I loved it.

spruce_tree 300Then I looked down through the branches and saw my family in the yard: mother gardening, father working on one of his cars, and much older sister preparing to head out in her own car. I could hear them easily and they were starting to ask each other, “Have you seen Gina?” so I unveiled my hiding spot and cheerily called out to them, “Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Sis!” Unfortunately (but predictably) they didn’t think my being 50 feet up in a narrow evergreen quite as enchanting as I did. My Mom went into a screaming state of panic and her fear was palatable. I suddenly gripped that trunk and felt the rush of a powerful fear.

I climbed down with a much more unhappy energy than I’d climbed up with, but I still give thanks for that memory. The trauma from my mother’s fear helped imprint that day, that moment, into my brain to be permanently stored. I loved that tree, that day, the clouds, the breeze, even the sticky and prickly branches, and my mother’s introduction of fear helped sear that day into me so that I would never forget.

Once I became a mother it was easy to forgive and understand my mom’s frantic, scolding actions. While I never experienced looking up a 50-foot tree to see my six-year old child near the top, I can still easily understand her behaviour (although I don’t recommend letting your child SEE your level of panic, if at all possible). Obviously I made it down safely, although the coming down was vastly worse than the going up. I was harshly scolded and forbidden from ever climbing trees again. (Not that it lasted. I discovered an ancient walnut tree as well as a prolific cherry tree at our next home. I figured moving made that ‘No Climbing Trees’ agreement void)

tree roots 350Now mid-life has snuck up on me and those memories are decades old. In my world I now have 50-foot spruce trees on my own property. While I do not feel the urge to push my much-larger body through the branches in an attempt to reach the heights, I feel their roots. I offer love to their roots.

I wonder, is this a part of aging? In my youth I longed for the tip-top branches, swaying in the breeze, and now I respect and appreciate roots where I add compost, occasional fertilizer and water during times of drought.

I myself have put deeper roots down as I cherish these years of my forties. If I may be so lucky this is the halfway point… the true mid-life stage and I intend to show up and put on a good show.

Offering my love and appreciation for the two huge spruce I share this property with is one way I celebrate life. They are old trees, older than I am, and their sprawling shallow roots reach much farther than the drip-line. Their roots might even be under me now as I type in the den facing the street, beside the nearest of the two giant trees as I watch the pattern of the wind in its branches.

If this is the case and the roots are under my feet, may it receive this prayer I offer. May this tree feel my appreciation for the birds it shelters and the shade it offers. May it know those fertilizer spikes I pound in at the drip-line during spring rains are one way I show my love as I attempt to replenish the soil nourishment our city lifestyles rob from urban trees. May it, on some unknown level, feel my loving eyes as I watch its branches from my window and attempt to capture poetic words to describe the beauty I behold. May these old trees, and all the trees in my area and the wilderness walks I enjoy, feel my deep appreciation for them and continue to flourish and share their oxygenating, healing energy with us all.

A Grown-up Forest Sprite

The boreal rain forests of British Columbia were where I spent my latter single-digit years. A magical world of greens and cool dampness, with spongy moss to soften my explorations and the pungent aroma of Skunk Cabbage forever etched into my childhood memories. Looking up past trees that towered so high I could not see the sky, I felt securely sheltered in the under-story of this quiet ancient masterpiece of Nature.

My explorations were carried out off the path. I traveled slowly, carefully, as silently as I could, out of my respect for the spirit of the forest and all the unseen creatures. I still recall my explorations feeling like I was home somehow, looking for shelter if needed, noting which trees were climbable, where the berries were, and how far I had travelled from the tiny stream trickling through the boulders by a favorite hidden thicket. I wanted to live amongst those old trees. And in those years of my youth, I practically did.

This sacred place remained my secret. It was a forest much farther along the path than my childhood friends journeyed in our games and playing. I had seen how school-mates treated the massive Banana slugs no matter how I protested, how they hated the smell of Skunk-Cabbage, how quickly they became bored, and did not seem to notice the sacredness of these deep old forests. I knew of no one who would understand the quiet magic and majesty of this precious place, except perhaps my father, but I assumed he was too busy and never told him about it.

When I remember how much time I spent alone in those forests, away from home for hours at a time, often sun-up to twilight in the summer months, I am sure that unseen forces helped protect me. There was a part of me that delighted in remaining hidden, and I would silently tuck behind a massive grouping of ferns upon hearing voices approaching along the nearby pathway. Like a forest sprite I would seek shelter from sight, hiding with other unseen creatures, watching the noisy humans pass by. I recall a thrill when once I heard a young woman say to her walking partner, “Wasn’t there a little girl up here? Where did she go?” I wondered if this is what deer felt like, to be seen and then to disappear, but actually remain closer than one might think.

In my joyous solitude, I marveled at the foot-long slugs and would get down, really close, to watch how their sides undulated as they glided across the mossy carpet, tentacle-like eyes seeming to glance at this young human and then turning away, unconcerned. The silken vestige of their travels shimmered almost magically in the soft light of that special forest. At the sight of a huge perfectly undamaged spider-web glistening with ten thousand shimmering dewdrops in the early morning light, my heart would fill to bursting and I began to discover the glory of God far more than in my family’s occasional visits to the local church. The sound of a songbird calling for a mate or defining its territory sounded so melodious that it melted my heart, yet even then I knew it was ‘just biology’. As I sat quietly on a mossy log to observe the songbirds, I recall noticing an interesting looking beetle soldiering along amongst the rough terrain of the forest floor, then suddenly tumbling over and flailing all legs in a feeble attempt to right itself. With a smile I picked up a fallen twig and gently touched the end to its belly plate, knowing it would grasp the small branch. Sure enough, and as I let go the twig onto the ground and watched this tiny armored tank continue on its mission, I noticed the seemingly black color of its back was actually shimmering with iridescent colors only to be witnessed if the light was at the right angle.

Even at this tender age before my tenth birthday, I truly found God in Nature. That my eyes could see such glorious beauty and hear such sweet melodies as wind in the trees and birds calling to mates, I felt that must be God. I felt then, and still feel, that God so glories in us humans that He gives us such gifts to behold with joy and wonder, that our hearts may open, and gratitude for this life, for every moment, may fill our hearts and overflow into the world. From one middle-aged forest sprite to the world, I say:  Thank You God, for this life, for all of Nature, for every day. Thank you. May I help shine Your light and love from within me out into the world. May I assist others in remembering our abundant reasons for gratitude. And may we unite in holding together towards peace, towards healing, towards cherishing this great glorious globe that we are blessed enough to call home. Namaste. ~Gina