Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Homage To Trees

Photo Credit: Beth Moon, San Francisco, "Ancient Trees: Portrait of Time" 

I have always been lucky to be able to earn a good living working with wood.  I am surrounded by amazing species of exotic hardwoods, in all shapes, sizes and colors.  I spend hours looking through the wood pile searching for exactly the perfect piece for whatever project I have in mind.  I keep in mind how precious this material is and always recycle the scrap for future needs.  After nearly 50 years I have a surprising collection of material, and I am respectful of my treasure.

I have also spent years playing music, both on the violin and viola, in orchestras and quartets.  There is a sacred feeling which is created by wooden instruments.  They actually have a voice and personality, which is a direct function of the wood.  It is the voice of the trees.

I feel the same way when I get any chance to walk in a forest.  The sound of the wind in the leaves and the tree trunks and branches moving is amazing.  To me it is dramatic and intense.  I usually just stop in my tracks, close my eyes and focus my senses on the rhythm and "breathing" of the trees.

Perhaps, since I grew up in a desert environment, I am more sensitive to the trees than someone who grew up surrounded by dense timber.  Perhaps not.  For me, however, it is one of the most personal and intimate experiences I can have.  You are never alone in a forest.

There is a poem by Michael S. Glasier which expresses how I feel:

The Presence of Trees

I have always felt the living presence
Of trees
The forest that calls to me as deeply
As I breathe
As though the woods were marrow of my bone
As though
I myself were a tree, a breathing, reaching
Arc of the larger canopy
Beside a brook bubbling to foam
Like the one
Deep in these woods,
That calls
That whispers home.

Growing up in the 60's I read a lot of Hermann Hesse literature and appreciated his insight.  On this particular subject he wrote in his story, called "On Trees":

"When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still!  Be still!  Look at me!  Life is not easy, life is not difficult."

Recently I took a cruise out into the Atlantic ocean for several weeks.  For the first time in my life I found myself surrounded by nothing but sea and sky.  (Did you know that the horizon of the ocean is only about 12 miles away?  It seems like you can see forever, but not even close.)  I found a book in the library which gave me a lot of peace and solitude.  It was written in 2008 by Nalini M. Nadkarni, and the title is "Between Earth and Sky--Our Intimate Connections To Trees."

The author has spent her life as a scientist and philosopher living in the canopy of trees deep in the Amazon rain forest.  She has studied the ecosystem extensively and her observations of life among the trees is enlightening.  We all perceive our environment individually and her perception of the trees, as she wrote in her text, had a deep influence on me, as I floated in the ocean, far from any tree or land.

I had time to watch some movies on the television in the cabin and selected two which seemed to be sympathetic to the theme of her book.  The first was staring Eddie Murphy, and is called "A Thousand Words."  Eddy plays a fast talking salesman looking for some peace and is visited by a tree which looses a leaf each time he says a word.  When the last leaf falls he will die.  I read a similar story many years ago by O. Henry, one of my favorite authors.  (You may have realized that O. Henry deeply influences my style of writing, as many of my blog posts follow his story format.)  His story was called "The Last Leaf" and can be found online.  It is a story of a sick woman who looks our her window in the hospital and sees a vine, which looses its leaves every day.  She knows she will die when the last leaf falls, but a man secretly paints a leaf on the wall to fool her and she survives.  I will let you read the story yourself to find out what happens to the man.

Another movie I watched was related but very strange.  "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" was made in 2012 and tells the story of a couple trying to have a child.  They put their wishes in a box and bury it in the back yard.  Overnight a young boy grows up where the box was.  The strange part is that his legs are covered with leaves.  As he fulfills each of their wishes, the leaves fall off.

It is sad to reflect on the global destruction of the last remaining forests.  It is such a sad fact that the news does not even talk about it.  We are killing the very species which give us oxygen while at the same time we are producing machines which generate carbon dioxide.  It is not much of a stretch to imagine that when the last leaf falls we will die.

This is what I reflect on when I search for a piece of wood.  How important it is that I respect the life of the tree which was sacrificed so that I could create an instrument, or table, or cabinet or chair.  By properly using wood in a way that understands its strength and beauty, I pay homage to its life.

In Nadkarni's book I also found a simple statement by Rumi that inspires me everyday:

Every Tree

Every tree, every growing thing as it
Grows says this truth: you harvest what
You sow.  With life as short as a half-
Taken breath, don't plant anything but

POSTSCRIPT:  After I finished this post, I felt satisfied that I had created something insightful and personal.  However, the next day, as I walked to work, something happened which made me want to add a final thought to this message.

I have walked to work on the same quiet residential streets for 46 years.  Since I walk to work about sunrise and I walk East, I am treated with the rising sun through the various trees which live in the neighborhood.  I have watched these trees grow up over the years and have formed a personal relationship with many of them.  (Not palm "trees" however, they are just tall bushes...)

Last year a neighbor cut down the largest and most beautiful jacaranda tree I have ever seen.  The trunk was nearly 3 feet in diameter!  The reason they cut it down was that the purple leaves were "messy".  They replaced it with a palm tree, which promptly died.  Now they have no shade and the yard is a desert wasteland.

Yesterday, as I walked to work I was shocked to see that the only pine trees in the area had disappeared.  These trees, which do not usually grow well in this climate had reached a height of at least 60 feet.  Every day for nearly 50 years I would stop on my walk, under their branches, and play hide and seek with the squirrels while kicking the pine cones through the needles that lay on the ground.

Now, overnight, these beautiful trees were gone.  All that was left was a hole in the sky.

In my mind and memories, I still see them living where they belong, and pay homage to the ghosts of trees long gone as I quietly reflect on how they contributed to my existence.


Paul Bouchard said...

Beautiful post. I worked on an off-shore oil rig when I was young; I'll never forget standing on the boat that took us back to shore after the first shift - approaching land and re-entering the smell of soil and trees. Especially invigorating when you're 19 years old.

Also remember visiting Unicorn Universal Woods in Toronto back in the mid 80s. They had train car sized piles of exotic wood in their warehouse and when I asked what was being made with it, the guy said, "flooring".

Sal Maris said...

Thank you for the this meditation upon trees. I love trees. I grew up around them and still revere them.

I would like to revise your distance to the horizon statement. To see 12 miles your height of eye would have to be in excess of 100 feet. Not hard on today's ships if you are on the bridge. The actual formula is simple: it's the height of eye squared times 1.14, giving you answer in nautical miles. People standing on the shore will not be able to see such a great distance as 12 miles but something in the range of just under 3 miles.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I appreciate your kind responses. I felt inspired to post something "personal" after reading that wonderful book about trees. It is interesting that even the paper in the book came from trees.

I asked the captain about the distance to the horizon. Since he is on top of a cruise ship his estimate is probably right. I thank you for providing the proper math to calculate this result.

It still seemed like infinity when I sat and looked out at it.

Renewable Community Power said...

If deforestation wasn't enough there's now the increased risk of forest loss from fires supercharged by our warming - and in many places increasingly drying - climate. In Tasmania there are 20 day old fires still burning in the World Heritage Area where there has been no evidence of large-scale fire for at least 1000 years. And now this is seen as the beginning of "the new normal".

W. Patrick Edwards said...

There is also the migration of insects which are killing the trees, made possible by the lack of cold climates.
We have a lot to learn about survival in a closed ecosystem, which is what the Earth is actually.