In Touch With Trees

Ok, fine, I admit it.  I have an obsession with trees. 

Allow me to explain.

As a kid I climbed trees — all the way to the top.  Take the flexible branched tamarack in the woods behind our house that I could climb easily right up to the very top where there were no branches left.  I could almost perch up there like a bird.  One little breeze and I would sway back and forth with the tree.  I was never scared because I trusted the tree would hold me.  It would bend and flex but I never once snapped a branch, no matter how skinny it was.  I had the most incredible view from up there!  I could see things all around and below me that could not be seen from my normal position on the ground.  It was a fun and exciting way to expand my view!

As a teenager I discovered trees were calming and solid.   Like a log being chopped into kindling for the fire sending splinters out in all directions, my family was splitting apart.  Long walks among the trees of the northeastern forest were my escape from the pain and suffering I felt.  I walked among them, swung on their branches, felt their bark and their leaves.  It was during this time that I connected with them because they were dependable.  I grew to appreciate their reliability and consistency.  I learned that the trees didn’t change much with the exception of with the seasons, but those changes were consistent from year to year and I always knew what to expect as each season rolled around.

In college I learned how to identify trees.  This allowed me to appreciate their differences even more as I now saw characteristics I had overlooked before.  I learned about things that influence their growth and threatened their survival.  I learned about the animals and plants that depended on them and saw them as being one small part of a bigger system.  It was at this time that I learned that I too am a small part of something bigger, connected to so many things that it is sometimes overwhelming to think about.

Today I appreciate trees and what they have done for me more than ever.  There are forests a short drive away that are easily accessible and I often retreat there at times when people and the chaos of life become too much.  Friends laugh at me because I touch almost every tree on a hike and they do not understand why I do such a silly thing.  To me this has deep meaning.  This is my way of reconnecting.  It is my way of  getting outside of myself and being a part of the bigger picture, putting my life back into perspective.  Touching trees may just be the most important thing that I do.

What do you connect with in nature?  Is there a living or non-living thing that you gravitate to?  Why?

A Swinger of Birches

Robert Frost

Growing up in Vermont, Robert Frost was naturally a part of my life.  I can’t recall at what age I was introduced to this marvelous writer, teacher and observer of the outdoors and rural life, but at a very young age I felt connected to him.  Always thick, heavy, hard-backed, and full of words expressing a shared view of the outdoors, I have checked out his books from the library over and over since the age of ten.  Finally there was someone who saw, felt, and understood the natural world like me!  I think we would have been good friends had he not died 14 years before I was born.

In the woods across the dirt road from my house, if you followed a small brook as it bubbled through mucky channels and underneath fallen logs, you would reach the bending birch.  I discovered the tree with my best friend who lived down the road as we roamed and explored the woods just like we did every day.  Instinctively, I reached up to grab the bent trunk but was too small to grab ahold.  So I jumped up, reached high above my head…and missed!  Determined to succeeed, I spent the next several visits jumping and reaching for that solid gray arc.  When I finally curled my fingers around the solid trunk I was thrilled!  Now I could swing, bounce, spin my body around and around on it, do pull ups, or just dangle in hopes of stretching myself to add inches to my height!

The birch tree gave me much more than a new playground on which to spend endless amounts of time.  To this day I can still feel the smooth, papery bark slip across my palms as I struggled to hang on.  When I moved my body, the entire tree moved with me – sinking low toward the ground, swaying side to side, springing up toward the sky.  The trunk was very pliable, adapting to the conditions and pressures that it faced such as strong wind or heavy snow that might have otherwise snapped it into pieces, thus ending its life.  The birch tree was resilient, flexible, and strong. 

Bending Birches

I see qualities of the birch within myself, qualities that perhaps I learned early on in life as a swinger of birches.  Life is full of external and internal pressures that take thier toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.  If we allow them to break us and we fall crashing to the ground it is very difficult to get the whole self back up and put together again.  Faced with such pressures, I am reminded of that mighty birch tree and its ability to bend and flex, adapting to its current situation, always bouncing back into place once the stress is gone, and ready to take on the next big wind that is trying to blow it off course. 

To read Birches by Robert Frost: