My Tree

There are times when I feel as if I was born out of time—I should have been a druid! I love trees! In a very intimate way I adore trees. This is not some new thing for me. I have loved trees since I was a child. 

I grew up in the woods on a mountainside in Tennessee. We were surrounded by trees on every side—pines, oaks, maples, hickories, dogwoods, redbuds—you get the picture. Trees were there for climbing which we did as children given there were not a lot of other options for play. Trees were there for building a tree fort which my older brother and I did—ruining some of our dad’s tools in the process! Trees were there as cover and hiding spots for games. 

Trees were also there providing wood for fires to keep the house warm. Every Thanksgiving included chopping and splitting wood for the winter—one of the only days my dad would take off from work. Firewood also became a ‘sideline’ in other years to make money when work was scarce—which was frequent. 

Trees formed the forests that were the high cathedrals of my spiritual life as well. Growing up in the Great Smoky Mountains meant hours of hiking and camping and wandering through the woods. There were huge poplars and soaring hemlocks. There were massive oaks. There were trees that had been there probably when this country was founded. They had watched over and weathered more storms than I could conceive. They had seen both drought and deluge. They had rooted themselves in the rocks and humus and duff of these woods for generations. Being amongst the trees was the breath of life for me. Nothing can match the musty smell of life in the forest!

There were also those that I had missed. I wished I had seen the Smokies when the chestnut trees were everywhere. The deadfalls still remain, but they only made me yearn for the standing, spreading living being. The chestnut blight, dutch elm disease, southern pine beetle, woolly adelgid, ash borer—so many stresses and strains have afflicted the ridges and coves and stripped them of the richer diversity that once lived here. Makes me appreciate all the more the ones that are left standing. 

A few year ago I took to hammocks in a big way. I had had back surgery and backpacking and camping took on a different aspect—I had to find ways to hike and camp that were light and afforded a degree of comfort beyond what I had known growing up. Hammocks were a light-weight way to stretch out in the woods—off the ground with its rocks and roots and irregularities. Additional items for comfort and warmth were created and I was in good shape once again. 

But I noticed that I no longer looked at trees in the same way after learning to hang.  While I had once admired single spectacular trees, I now looked at trees in pairs. I caught myself saying, ‘those two would make for a nice hang!’ Mind you I still loved all trees, but the ones that were spaced so that they would hold a hammock became a new emphasis for me. Ideally two trees—10”-24” in diameter, with no dead branches overhead, and not on a large slope—became the ideal. Such settings would allow me to camp comfortably overnight or even just stretch our for a shorter ‘day-camp’ in the woods where I could have lunch and maybe even a nap in the middle of walking the woods. 

As much as I loved trees before hanging in them, I think perhaps that connection and affection has only grown through the years. Now when I have enjoyed a good time of hanging I will take down my hammock and hug the trees that have offered me support. I will usually give them a pet and say ‘Thank you, poplar…thank you, sycamore.’ (These were the two on my latest camping trip to offer their services.)  There is a practical aspect here which is that way I remember to grab my tree straps that are an essential piece of gear for hanging. But it also a spiritual moment of thanksgiving. 

I have been fortunate to hang in lots of places now. I’ve hung on palm trees on Moloka’i in Hawai’i. Actually enjoyed fresh coconut while swaying and watching the waves come in. I’ve hung on enormous cedars in Alaska. These, too, have been within sight of the ocean. 

I received a wonderful card the other day that was expressing someone’s appreciation to me. The card is wonderful, but the better news was that a tree is being planted in one of America’s forest in my honor. I was moved. Still am. How incredibly thoughtful and appropriate! 

I find my mind thinking new thoughts. Somewhere out there is ‘my tree.’ I don’t know where or in what forest. I don’t know what species. Part of me wishes I did have all of that information. I would plan a pilgrimage to find it and hike to it and maybe spend some time there. I would discover where it would get its light and water. I would survey the prevailing winds to see how that might shape its future shape and size. I would like to think that I could camp there at some point and share some moments of growth and grace. Lovely thoughts that will not come to be. While it may be ‘my tree’ it will simply be part of the forest in which it finds its life. 

That makes me more mindful of all the trees—those I grew up with, those I have hiked among, those I have used for hanging and camping, those that make me stop and marvel at their size and strength. I rejoice to have ‘my tree’ out there somewhere, but I also rejoice that we all have ‘our trees’ together. 

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