I am literally a tree-hugger. My childhood home on the Gold Coast of Long Island was landscaped with beautiful old maples, birch trees and an apple orchard. Our property abutted an undeveloped tract of land that was wooded and cool, with a small grove of white pines that as a very little girl I would skip off to visit, back in the days when a mom would simply open the screen door and gesture outside: Be home in time for lunch. Early one spring morning, one of those late-May days when the buds uncoil and the air buzzes with energy—bugs and birds awakening, plant life percolating– I went out to the grove to visit my favorite pine tree, one with a thick trunk and low hanging branches drooping down to touch the earth. The air was cool and piney in my tree-tent, and the tall tree stood silent and calm. I was so bursting with love for it, I took off all my clothes and hugged the trunk, loving the feel of the soft pine needles under my feet, the spring breeze on my skin, the touch of the scratchy bark in my arms. I must have been four or five. I never told a soul (not from shame, but reverence), although the experience showed up in the draft of young adult novel languishing in my drawer of unfinished projects, so it’s stuck with me.
Trees are among my favorite planetary life forms, along with dogs, young children, and songbirds. Although I no longer strip naked to embrace them (sorry to give you that mental image of me), I do often stop when I’m out walking the trails and touch my hand to the trunk of a tree, splaying out my fingers to fit the deep grooves, matching my handprint to patterns in the bark. It’s a form of greeting, I suppose, my way of saying “thank you,” for the air I breathe, for giving me shade, for teaching me about stillness and patience, and a host of other kindnesses that I’m usually too preoccupied to notice. Walking today, I spotted a beech tree I hadn’t seen before in the woods—it’s not a species I often see, although apparently it is indigenous to New England forests. The trunk was maybe four or five feet in diameter, the bark a leathery taupe, like elephant skin. How had I not noticed it before, when I’ve walked this trail almost daily for over twenty-five years? I reached out to place my palm on the bark, and noticed a couple of letters carved about six feet up the trunk, some kid, probably, leaving his mark, the great beech graciously accepting this human tattoo. Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” sprang to mind. It was a favorite read-aloud book when my children were little. On the surface, it looks funny and sweet, but it’s a cautionary tale, isn’t it, about Nature’s selfless generosity in the face of human self-absorption and greed.
Another favorite: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” Seuss’ Lorax is such a grouch, but I get it. No one is listening to him. As the dogs and I continued on our way home, I thought about how patiently the trees regard us humans, about how many people they’ve witnessed over the years passing under their boughs, hopeful and broken, joyful or mourning, sleepwalking our way through the woods.
PS: Now you know one of the reasons why I chose this image as the logo for my web design business: