Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Tall Trees


When I am upset, I go to the trees. Following my father’s death, in the last six weeks I have sometimes sought comfort in standing with and sitting under trees.

Needing a bit of arboreal TLC the other Sunday, I headed for Kew Gardens in West London. As my companion and I sauntered about, the tree people watched us indulgently, or so it seemed to me. As we walked, I wondered about the people who had collected all these wonderful trees. Whether their motivation was simply scientific preservation or something more deeply spiritual, I did not know. Whatever they had intended, the goddess was present here, and she had many different faces.

After eating our packed lunch on a damp bench in the wild woodland area near Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, we retreated indoors from the rain. But I was itching to get back to the trees and so as soon as the rain stopped, we made our way to a shaggy old Moroccan Cedar I had explored delightedly, earlier that afternoon and which was quietly calling me.

Despite the inclement weather, we did not have the place to ourselves. Adults clipped and clopped crisply along the nearby path and small children shrieked like seagulls as they chased each other across the lawns. I leaned against the trunk of the old tree, sheltering under one of its huge limbs and cast a circle.

The snappy little wind blew raindrops from the shaggy leaves and in an “I’ll have none of this nonsense” manner, extinguished the candle we twice tried to light. Still the incense danced on the whirling breeze, spiralling around me as I worked.

Resting my cheek against the rough bark, I called the spirit of the tree to come be with me. The Soft, slightly resin perfume of the tree filled my nostrils, over head, birds called to each other and jets segmented the sky on their way to or from Heathrow.

And behind my eyelids, the tall trees began to move, slowly and majestically, as though in an ancient but polite dance. It seemed to me, as they moved, that they inclined their great spreading branches towards each other as though to say “How do you do?” In a rather grave and formal way. Tenderly they seemed to watch each other, moving together and then apart, finding another tree being to greet and then moving on again.

The hard trunk that was supporting my back seemed to grow around me. I felt the tree move and scoop me up into its rough feathery branches, cradle me close as it too, like a great rough bear, began to move towards its fellows. Rocked by the motion, I relaxed and felt comforted.

Pungently, the smell of the wet earth came to greet me, mingling with the resin tang of the tree and the sharper smell of wet crushed grass. Voices and footfalls wove in and out of each other as another jet passed by. The rain began to fall in earnest.

My feet were on the ground. My back against a rough old trunk. I was sheltering under the armpit of a big old tree which had stood firmly, swaying only with the winds, withstanding storm and hurricane for decades. I stood up and walked around the tree, picking up a discarded branch and beginning to stroke her trunk tenderly, softly honouring her magnificence. Silently I thanked her for her unconditional love.

As I walked, the words of an old Grace, sung at my special school came into my head. The school was surrounded by tall old cedar trees. The song paid tribute to their presence as a sign of God’s love. I began to sing and the words shifted and changed.

Cedar’s round this country fair, tell the story of thy care,
And the trees who watch and wait, are the guardians of our fate.”

I sang out to the trees, the lungs of the earth; a tangible indicator of the earth’s well-being. Across the world, forests were being cleared and the consequence was disastrous for many communities. As I sang, I sent out blessing in thanks for those who made and kept this place and whose order and meticulous care continue to honour the trees.

It was time to go. I opened the circle and we made our way out from under the tree and back into the darkening February afternoon.

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