In Search of Truth and Beauty: At Home Among the Trees

Posted in Blogs, Literary, Nature

BY JONI TAKANIKOS
May 17, 2017

I have a confession to make. I am a dendrophile, defined as one who loves trees and forests. Mine is a profoundly reverential and spiritual love and hence a completely uplifting relationship. You may also call me a tree hugger.

One of my earliest memories is of the giant willow in the front yard of my grandparents’ home. The willow’s branches climbed upward before arching and curving downward to reach all the way to the ground. I parted the curtains of its supple branches and spent most of my day inside this willow house. I recall sitting very still and watching the green leaves as they waved and danced with the particles of sunlight. I was completely sheltered without being separated from the beautiful world of “outside.” I was inside the realm of the outside and it was magical!

Tree Road of Ireland (Photo by Joni Takanikos)

Although I have never encountered another willow as magnificent as that one, I have loved and revered many trees since then. I was fortunate to know a big-leaf maple that grew in the front yard of a home I lived in for many years. The maple and I had hundreds of profound and silent conversations over the years and, when the maple fell on hard times due to human interference, I wept for three days.

Grandmother cedar (Photo by Gina Burja-Simpson)

Every Sunday, I read a very brilliant blog by Maria Popova titled Brainpickings. Here are two quotes gleaned from there:

The first is from the book,The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate” by German forester Peter Wohlleben.

Valley of trees (Photo by Gina Burja-Simpson

“Why are trees such social beings? Why do they share food with their own species and sometimes even go so far as to nourish their competitors? The reasons are the same as for human communities: there are advantages to working together. A tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water, and generates a great deal of humidity. And in this protected environment, trees can live to be very old. To get to this point, the community must remain intact no matter what. If every tree were looking out only for itself, then quite a few of them would never reach old age. Regular fatalities would result in many large gaps in the tree canopy, which would make it easier for storms to get inside the forest and uproot more trees. The heat of summer would reach the forest floor and dry it out. Every tree would suffer.

Every tree, therefore, is valuable to the community and worth keeping around for as long as possible. And that is why even sick individuals are supported and nourished until they recover. Next time, perhaps it will be the other way round, and the supporting tree might be the one in need of assistance.

A tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it.”

The next quote is by one of my favorite authors, Hermann Hesse, from his book “Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte” or “Trees: Reflections and Poems”

Cross my heart (Photo by Gina Burja-Simpson)

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

The Green Seascape Sky of Ireland (Photo by Joni Takanikos)

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

I will end this tree-lined perspective with a poem from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.

Even the trees are blue (Photo by Gina Burja-Simpson)

When I Am Among Trees
by Mary Oliver

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.

Joni Takanikos is a yoga teacher at Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley. Her favorite yoga asana is vrksasana, tree pose. It’s possible she was a tree in another life.

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