The Wisdom of Trees

Tree bending in the wind

The wind rose in the night and became turbulent above the tidal river. In the early morning I went out to walk the shore and stopped to watch the sea-birds careering beneath the wild tumbling clouds. The seagull and the catalpa trees are what they are, and in their place freely adjust to the movement of the wind.

Like John Muir, I enjoy going up trees; unlike him, I never made it to the top of a great old one amidst a thunderous lightening storm in Yellowstone. The living tree is sensitive to the movement of air and will align itself to best natural advantage before the wind touches it; in the same way will a good sailor read the elements upon the ocean, or an experienced shepherd protect the flock high up on the mountain.

Some years ago, I spent some enjoyable hours sitting atop a tall pine tree on a hillside as the wind came rolling in waves up from a valley. Between each interval one could feel the sensitivity, some of the natural intelligence of the tree beneath the body, as it prepared for the next wave. In the finest fraction of time before the wind made contact, the branches lifted, the tree swayed, shifted weight, and without loss of its earthly balance, returned to centre. Should it have waited until the moment the wind hit, the strain would in all probability have broken branches; and of course, in a bigger wind the tree has to shift and give way more frequently and to a greater degree. The tree does what it does intelligently, exactly what is needed, no more, no less. What prevents us from living so sanely?

In his memorable book Man’s Search for Meaning, Experiences in a Concentration Camp, Viktor E. Frankel related:

‘This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through the window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms, “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied, “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, “I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal life.”

Click for information on the environmentalist, John Muir