One year many moons ago I came upon a large sprawling evergreen oak tree standing proudly at the top of the highest point in my local park. I had jogged past this tree on many occasions before, not really noticing it but this time I felt called to stop and dive beneath her huge canopy of stout, low hanging branches, some sweeping the ground. Here in the vast space under her wingspan I stood still in wonderment taking slow deep breaths for several minutes and almost immediately I felt an overarching sense of calm and peacefulness.
My body knew first before I did that this was the right thing to do. Standing there in stillness the hush quieting the racing thoughts in my mind I felt a wild sense of coming home both to myself and to nature. Standing there in the presence of the tree felt as if I was entering the nave of a cathedral and being enveloped into the ancient silence filled with a sacred wellness and welcoming.
For some time I continued regular early morning visits to Sanctuary the name I gave my tree. Quickly Sanctuary became my sacred place in nature. Replacing the sanctuary that elevated platform housing the altar in cathedrals. Instead the ground underneath the trees canopy became my place for ceremony and ritual.
Early morning appointments when only the hardy dog walkers were out would almost guarantee I would have the tree to myself. Sometimes I would give myself permission to lean my back against the tree’s crinkled bark allowing my weariness to drain away like leaves fall from trees and believing that in some way the strength of this tree will find its way into my body that shares such a resemblance to a trees own torso. Their trunks shaped like our own body, their limbs resembling our arms and their roots are the legs that we walk and stand on. Other times I would perform a body prayer taught to me during my seminary training and other occasions I would give the tree a hug or sit and journal.
In our busy lives it’s all too easy to take trees for granted. But imagine the landscape anywhere in the world without their presence? On my recent travels to Greece I stayed high up on Mount Pelion. From my bed I looked out onto thickets of green dense forest coating the mountain sides home to thousands of olive, mulberry, figs, horse chestnuts, plane, cherry, orange, plums, peaches and lime trees all growing on the mountain side in wild abandon. In one village square I visited a thousand year old plane tree whose torso resembles the body of a dinosaur looms over the village square casting a huge shadow away from the sun. It stands luminous claiming every atom of airspace despite one of its long, stout branches weighing tonnes being supported by the most unattractive concrete block because it is so overweight.
The closest we humans probably get in intimacy with trees is in the summertime especially when the weather is good. So as the good weather shines on us here in the UK let's remember the presence and power trees hold and how much they provide us with when we picnic under their shade, climb their torso or enjoy eating their fruits or berries. Take a moment to remember an early encounter with a tree as a child or young person. Can you recall a moment of awe with a tree? How old you were? How would you describe your tree to a child you love? What would you say was special about your particular tree? Is there a named tree you can make a pilgrimage to this summer? As you go about daily life stop to notice the trees around you. The different textures of bark, the amazing arrangement of sizes and shapes of trees leaves to the wild and wondrous assortment of flowers crowds of trees bear during the summer months of the year.
At this time of the year flocks of trees in both the cities and the countryside are at their peak ablaze with colour, flowers and full foliage. So as we enjoy all that trees feed us with lets remember we cannot survive without trees. They return life saving oxygen into the air and provide an abundance of food, wood and shelter as well as drugs and resins. And as if that is not enough trees many benefits to human kind also extends to regulating rainfall, controlling floods and are one of the earth’s finest protectors against the impending global warming we have bought upon ourselves.
Trees are the green lungs of our world we need them and they need us. Let's remember that trees are our one of the human races oldest friends. We need them and they need us to protect and preserve one of nature’s finest heritage.