All my life, as far back as I can remember, I have felt a connection with trees. I’ve grasped trunks and branches during youthful climbs and wondered how my hands felt to them. I felt their surface as rough, crumbly, sticky in places with sap, and I wondered if they felt me climbing them as warm, human, fleeting, soft.
One of my earliest memories regarding my family involved a tree. A very tall tree. We lived near the end of a long country road and our yard had a row of tall spruce running along the property line, separating our house and yard from the road. I loved those huge spruce trees and would often climb up to sit, swing and bounce on those sprawling lower branches. For my tiny body of six years those branches made a perfect ladder all the way to the top, and one day I just kept going.
I can still remember the sticky sap that clung to my palms as I reached up to another and then another branch-rung in this ladder to the clouds. That is until the branches were so close together that all I could do was perch on the sturdiest one and hold onto the trunk. It was exhilarating. My heart was happy and excited and I felt so intimately close to that old tree. I felt safe. Cocooned. I even noticed how the breeze made that old tree sway. In my mind it was as if I was nestled in the clouds and I loved it.
Then I looked down through the branches and saw my family in the yard: mother gardening, father working on one of his cars, and much older sister preparing to head out in her own car. I could hear them easily and they were starting to ask each other, “Have you seen Gina?” so I unveiled my hiding spot and cheerily called out to them, “Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Hi Sis!” Unfortunately (but predictably) they didn’t think my being 50 feet up in a narrow evergreen quite as enchanting as I did. My Mom went into a screaming state of panic and her fear was palatable. I suddenly gripped that trunk and felt the rush of a powerful fear.
I climbed down with a much more unhappy energy than I’d climbed up with, but I still give thanks for that memory. The trauma from my mother’s fear helped imprint that day, that moment, into my brain to be permanently stored. I loved that tree, that day, the clouds, the breeze, even the sticky and prickly branches, and my mother’s introduction of fear helped sear that day into me so that I would never forget.
Once I became a mother it was easy to forgive and understand my mom’s frantic, scolding actions. While I never experienced looking up a 50-foot tree to see my six-year old child near the top, I can still easily understand her behaviour (although I don’t recommend letting your child SEE your level of panic, if at all possible). Obviously I made it down safely, although the coming down was vastly worse than the going up. I was harshly scolded and forbidden from ever climbing trees again. (Not that it lasted. I discovered an ancient walnut tree as well as a prolific cherry tree at our next home. I figured moving made that ‘No Climbing Trees’ agreement void)
Now mid-life has snuck up on me and those memories are decades old. In my world I now have 50-foot spruce trees on my own property. While I do not feel the urge to push my much-larger body through the branches in an attempt to reach the heights, I feel their roots. I offer love to their roots.
I wonder, is this a part of aging? In my youth I longed for the tip-top branches, swaying in the breeze, and now I respect and appreciate roots where I add compost, occasional fertilizer and water during times of drought.
I myself have put deeper roots down as I cherish these years of my forties. If I may be so lucky this is the halfway point… the true mid-life stage and I intend to show up and put on a good show.
Offering my love and appreciation for the two huge spruce I share this property with is one way I celebrate life. They are old trees, older than I am, and their sprawling shallow roots reach much farther than the drip-line. Their roots might even be under me now as I type in the den facing the street, beside the nearest of the two giant trees as I watch the pattern of the wind in its branches.
If this is the case and the roots are under my feet, may it receive this prayer I offer. May this tree feel my appreciation for the birds it shelters and the shade it offers. May it know those fertilizer spikes I pound in at the drip-line during spring rains are one way I show my love as I attempt to replenish the soil nourishment our city lifestyles rob from urban trees. May it, on some unknown level, feel my loving eyes as I watch its branches from my window and attempt to capture poetic words to describe the beauty I behold. May these old trees, and all the trees in my area and the wilderness walks I enjoy, feel my deep appreciation for them and continue to flourish and share their oxygenating, healing energy with us all.