The Spirit of Trees

The Spirit of Trees

The United Nations has designated 2011 as ‘The Year of the Forest”. The vision is to educate the global community on the social, economic and environmental value of trees and the dangers of losing our forests. I say, “And what about the spirit of trees?”

Ancient Douglas Fir, Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island

Picture the earth covered by a forest so vast it not only circles the globe, but its mass alone refreshes the atmosphere of the entire planet. Trees have populated the earth for millions of years, existing long before we humans, or even the Canadian Rockies or the Swiss Alps. Science indicates that today’s ancient forests have evolved from species in their prime some 20 million years ago. In our fast-paced 21st century, the primordial spirit of trees still reaches out to us offering stillness and timeless knowledge.

In my life trees have become a constant and guiding presence. The path I follow to the local shops in my neighborhood takes me past a row of mature London Plane trees. I walked past these trees for three years before realizing they were calling out to me. Even though I am drawn to trees, just like people, you can’t have a relationship with every tree. Sometimes it’s okay to just walk through the park. But when a tree does draw our attention, we may realize that we habitually separate spirit from matter. Our animal nature knows better. When I function from my knowing animal self, no longer projecting mental concepts onto the outer landscape, I open to the unexpected and to what is actually there. From this state of openness, I began a relationship of discovery with one remarkable tree.

The bark of my friend the London Plane Tree

Originating in the 16th century from pollination between an Oriental Plane and American Sycamore tree. London Plane trees have a beautiful, multicolored exfoliating bark, like puzzle pieces, but rounded and smooth to the touch. They have branches the size of tree trunks that twist and angle, as if choosing to grow in one direction, then spontaneously deciding, “No, I think I’ll grow this way instead.” Massive and reaching by nature, they are tall and stunning; with a broad shady canopy that welcomes birds and people alike. The personality of this tree is pure kindness. The tree has told me that the London Planes, through their great spirit, anchor to earth that uninhibited joy we so rarely give ourselves as adults. Even with their great mass, there is lightness to them.

One night, with a heavy heart, I visited my friend the London Plane tree. Its subtle body reached out and held me in tenderness. Another day, I leaned against its trunk and asked, “What would be good to write about next, on behalf of trees?” The tree answered, “Love. That’s all there really is. It’s the wellspring of this vast universe we share. Tell humanity about the love that is shared between trees and the love you feel from us. Write from your place of love.”

So in this ‘Year of the Forest’, or Forest 2011 as the UN calls it, my hope is to share with the global community that there is more to trees than purely social, economic and environmental value. The danger of losing our original forests is that we also lose the ancient wisdom, guidance and love of these great beings. How do we put a value on that?

By Joanne Marks