Branches embrace each other, groaning in a language long vanished from human comprehension. I stand entranced, watching the limbs of the ancient sycamore rub and flail about, lost in contemplation of one tree within a vast deciduous forest. Its grey bark shades to rufous around the wide girth. Where the scaly skin has peeled pallid undertones peek out. The semi-rough rind grates under my hand as I stroke its trunk, murmuring dulcet adorations to it. My feet yearn to climb up the sturdy boughs, up towards the sky. I trace the shallow sinuous path of its roots playing hide and seek in the undergrowth. They spread laterally, probing through dirt, a neural network of arboreal synapses. I listen to that peculiar rasping susurrus of leaves chattering as the wind ruffles them. The sound carries me to another time when this enigmatic place quivered with restless joy.
Mountains intimidate me with their austerity, oceans stupefy me with their infinity. Trees, however, comfort me with their resilience. I befriend them in my travels, I feel kinship with their permanent dream-state, I admire their uncompromising individuality. I can understand how the Celts held sacred rites in groves or why Egyptians believed the soul found afterlife bliss in a sylvan setting. Trees are one of the few left to possess primordial magic. Evergreens in their immortality, banyans in their illimitableness, oaks in their fortitude convey to us creation’s enchantment. In their variegated forms, in their regenerative prowess, in their union of celestial and nether, trees harken us back to that original Elysium where mortals and nature dwelt in harmony.
There is inherent value in a tree. If it never shelters animals from the tempest, if it refuses to shade weary travelers, if it rejects becoming lumber or pulp, if its food is inedible, if its sap is useless, if it depletes the supply of oxygen, it remains priceless. In Katsumi Komagata’s pop-up book, “Little Tree,” the graphic designer reveals how every tree stoically, openly undergoes the circle of life, thereby teaching us how to accept the organic rhythm and progression of existence. Though no one notices the seedling, it flourishes into a mature plant without self-loathing. When winter assaults with gale and precipitation, the adult version endures through to spring, without breaking under the onslaught. By its patient adaptability Komagata’s tree shows us how to manage complexity while living simply.
They belong to themselves, keenly aware of their particularities, selfish of their peculiar needs. Yet, they cohabit with profligate generosity. They manifest in myriad anatomies — no one would confuse a pine for a willow — while maintaining their essence. Their unique chemical ability, photosynthesis is harbinger of sustenance. Their crucial biomolecule chlorophyll’s inability to absorb the green spectrum is ingrained in our psyche as the hallmark of growth. They probe, grind, and heave under our feet. They split, stretch, and fling above our heads. Every movement performed, nonetheless, so imperceptibly that all the while we perceive trees as mute, abiding entities. They elicit memories, kindle our sacred senses. Trees are inextricably linked to our survival.
I think about trees often. Behind my childhood backyard, the copse of eastern hemlock slaughtered for real estate development haunts me. I dream about swinging from the crape-myrtle at my grandfather’s house, my arms brimming with its bright pink blossoms. Sometimes, the pungent throng of swaying eucalyptus dotting the coastal slope interrupts my work, stirring me with emotion I cannot decipher. I am besotted with the entire species. I do not have a favorite, for how shall I choose among their glory? An eager sapling in a parking lot gladdens my heart; a hoary beech arouses my veneration; a furtive taiga beguiles me. These arboreal wonders include me in the universe’s ebb and flow, allow me to revel in contradiction, lure me with glimpses of divine grandeur. In their presence I learn afresh sundry lessons. I love to be in their company in all seasons, to meditate at their feet, to discover the secret of their speech. I enter forests seeking affinity and solace, but when I leave I take with me the arcane import of another world.
Trees for Life is an organization dedicated to restoring the native Scottish Highland forests. Since 1989, through the help of volunteers, they have planted over one million indigenous trees in the region. Their ongoing programs include management of the Dundreggan Estate and the Woodland Ground Flora Project.
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