For Jennifer and Robb
I spoke to my step-mom, Judy, last week. We had a great conversation. I especially enjoyed hearing how much trees resonate with her as much as they do me. So much so, Judy has named the tree outside their house. The one overhanging their patio, the birdbath and feeder, the wetland waterway bordered by pluff mud and filled with the briney water found between sea and the inland bay of that South Carolina lowland. Next to the Crowders (the best neighbours anyone could hope for) the tree growing on Broomfield Creek, Lady’s Island. We always say Dad and Judy found paradise as they overlook the waterway running alongside their property teeming with dolphins, rays, sharks, crabs and shrimp caught by the net-full off their dock. They enjoy the days with bluebirds, painted buntings, hummingbirds and cardinals visiting the feeder, ospreys nesting and egrets strolling, freezing and dipping to feed at low tide. They watch stunning sunsets over the Sparta grass to see out the evening. They measure the seasons of the year, not so much by leaves turning red in the autumn and renewed with green buds in the spring, instead, they can tell by the state of grass what time of year they are in. They watch it all through the frame of the dangling Spanish moss swaying in the breeze off the limbs of what Judy calls ‘The Sheltering Tree’.
If you know one thing about me you know how much I love trees; their dignity, their stoicism, the bounty of all they give to us as fuel, as food, as paper, as breathable air! I love Judy’s connection that trees are also a shelter, physically and mentally, for us. I can’t but count my blessings I am surrounded by magnificent trees and can regularly walk in the woods with my dog, Winston. Where the awesomeness of the ocean humbles me in its vastness and power, the intimacy of the woods is one I find so accessible. A soothing, restoring, hands-on touch with Nature. The Japanese even have a phrase for it, “shinrin yoku” or forest bathing, which connects for me with the feeling of refreshment we can get from a walk in the woods.
I’ve learned other words like ‘bower’ and ‘dappled’ through walks in and amongst the trees. You know how you can learn a word from the dictionary, learn it by sight but to really get to know a word sometimes takes an experience to truly understand it? It took walking to that quiet place emerging in amongst a thicket of brown, grey, mossy trunks to a sacred space amidst the trees, hidden from the world absorbing the sounds and worries of the outside to properly breathe deeply and purely to realise I’d found myself a “bower”. When I first read Keats’ poem, Endymion, at university in Virginia I had to look up the word to appreciate the poem more. From my strolls around Toys Hill I realise how perfectly Keats choose it.
In those bowers and beyond, the woods have their own soundscape. They buffer out the pull of the weight of the world filling it instead with birdcalls, rustles in the underbrush, breezes pulling through the treetops to sound just like the draw of a wave across the shore. Listen and you will hear it too. The squeak of the branches that rub against each others bark, the drip on the umbrella of a canopy in a rainstorm. It all feels like a filter where thoughts can be examined, played with, fetched like the stick I throw for Winston. Reminiscing comes easily for me in the woods settled by the pace of my steady walk. I feel I can tap into my resources but never drain them there.
And it’s nice to know I’m not alone. The BBC has made 2020 The Year of The Tree covering stories examining “The Power of Trees” in our world on their nightly PM show. People show the presenter their favourite tree and explain why it is so. I’m in good company, I reckon. People getting a kick out of trees’ Spring blossom or Autumn harvest. I’ll take trees any time full of leaves, evergreen or leaflessly hibernating through the winter. They find me where ever I go. Even at Yoga, where Kay has been coaching us to plant our feet in the mat, ground ourselves so we can bend and sway like palm trees.
And it is good to know we’re not alone. Especially when those you love and hold as dear as the upright towering redwoods forever strong fixtures in the structure of your life are no longer there. As strong and solid as an oak remembered best at his home on Oak Grove Lane (believe it or not), my best friend’s father who we lost this week. When someone like Jim Miller comes into your life and loves you like his own, kids with you and supports you even from afar when your own children grow up. When a presence like that is felled out of the blue, you feel the tear of his roots exposed from the ground into the air like the shock of a raw gash in a tree snapped at the trunk. Mr Miller was one of the trees in my stand of friends and family. With him down, I can’t help but feel the gap he has left in our lives. Just the size and shape of him.
At times like these you wish for the ‘hugging trees’ as I’ve named them. Especially the pair just above the pond before you get to the horse gate. A pair of trees that have grown so close they are entwined and hold each other upright even when one is weakened. It is something to behold. Unabated, undeniable support.
So I turn to the trees like friends and I hope in touching one, the love and support I feel for those left standing find its way like ‘treelepathy’ and grant them some peace as safe as the haven of an arbour. I search for words to ease and lighten the loads of others but sometimes my own are not enough. Instead, I thank my friend, Suzanne, for knowing just when to share Mary Oliver’s poem, When I Am Among The Trees with me just when I needed it.
Whatever you are living with or through, may the grace of trees find you and grant you the shelter you seek. May you bathe in their beauty and peace and emerge renewed.