Among the Trees

I walked to the falls today. Even the trees seemed relieved that everything had cooled down, that the skies had grayed over. The leaves were no longer limp. Drops of recent rain hung from upturned tips of Western Red Cedar branches. I had thought that the summer heat would never end.

There’s something about being with the trees. When I look up, I have a sense of them waving in the breeze, a sense of altered time. I have to work to remember that half of a tree’s body lies underground, out of sight below me. Do the trees stretch their toes the way I do into warm sand?

When I look out my window, I can now see leaves moving slightly in the breeze. It is the breeze, isn’t it, that causes them to move? I presume.

In ‘Travels with Charley,’ John Steinbeck wrote about sitting under the giant sequoias:

“To me there’s a remote and cloistered feeling here. One holds back speech for fear of disturbing something – what? From my earliest childhood I’ve felt that something was going on in the groves, something of which I was not a part. And if I had forgotten the feeling, I soon got it back.

“At night, the darkness is black – only straight up a patch of gray and an occasional star. And there’s a breathing in the black, for these huge things that control the day and inhabit the night are living things and have presence, and perhaps feeling, and somewhere deep-down perception, perhaps communication.”

“And only these few are left – a stunning memory of what the world was like once long ago. Can it be that we do not love to be reminded that we are very young and callow in a world that was old when we came into it? And could there be a strong resistance to the certainty that a living world will continue its stately way when we no longer inhabit it?”

Sometimes I wonder, do the trees feel my footsteps? Do they sense my need for support as I struggled down the steep path toward the falls? The trees, their age, some two, three, four hundred years, make me feel like a child standing in her grandmother’s lap.

But people are not as benign as all that. The trees bodies littered the edge of the river. There were remnants of the slaughter. Stumps with springboard notches in them remained from trees that were young and lithe in the forest when Da Vinci sketched the ‘Vitruvian Man’ in his notebook. Every child with an axe is a menace. I was no exception. I used to peel bark as easily as I laid on my back to look at the sky through the branches.

If I were a tree, would I chafe at the rootedness? Would I despair over wind and floods and man’s intentions? Would I have the patience to wait until man discovered relativity and claimed it as his own? What is time to a tree, I wonder? What is distance? Does a tree bask in the morning sun the way I sometimes do? Does it raise it’s arms ever so slightly to welcome the rain when it finally comes?

Thank you for listening, jules


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