I haven’t admitted to my tree fetish before, so here goes. If you are sitting in a wooden chair, then slip out so that I can admire the style and examine the wood. I am probably the only person you know with a book on trees that explains which tree is used for what. Once Gary and I went to Portland for a weekend. We made the mistake of wandering into an antique store and sitting in two of the most comfortable wooden office chairs ever made. We bought the chairs, but then couldn’t afford the hotel expense and had to drive back home in the wee hours of the night.
Over the past week I have been driving through the foothills of California. The oak trees dotting the hills keep me slowing down for a better view. One evening I passed the best tree yet high on a hill, outlined by the setting sunlight. A professional photographer was just setting up. I decided not to disturb him. This is his livelihood. But I do love those trees. They remind me of being a child and riding down from Reno to go to baseball games in San Francisco. The joy of the trip was coming through the fog and into the golden foothills marked by oaks.
The redwood trees loom. Some of you may know Ursula LeGuin’s story on trees, the story told in the voice of an old tree by a highway. The tree explains that as a sapling he needed to learn to loom when approached by a rabbit in that jumpy manner of rabbits. As the rabbit disappeared the tree had to reverse his looming. The tree mastered looming for humans walking, buggies, Model-T’s and eventually big-powered fast cars. I love the thought that the redwoods loom for me.
I am sitting in the middle of a grove of them right now. Looking up they startle me with their girth. I’ve woken up late the last two mornings. After the first feeling of having wasted time, I look around and find myself being pleased. My time is mine to waste, what better place to be wasting it than here. Pup too looks up and all around when she wakes up in the woods.
Today pup and I walked about five miles or so up a hill through a continuous stand of old growth. The silence was almost unbroken. Once I heard a single bird, then one small trickle of water and eventually one car. Woods call attention to sound. When I am at home lying in the hammock looking up through the leaves of the walnut trees, I listen for the wind and the stream.
Here in the redwoods the ubiquitous redwood slice is in almost every visitor’s center. The counting of its concentric circles delineates its age. I have been thinking about those rings. The spaces between the rings that are the widest apart are the ones that indicate a good year with many rains. In humans I think that it is in an odd way the same. A year of stormy grief may bring the greatest spiritual growth by watering the soul and challenging the individual to become more compassionate and thoughtful. The tree may be feeling the weight of the extra water in its branches and may struggle to hold them up. Humans may be feeling the weight of their burdens. Yet both in the end are stronger and sturdier.