I’m revising my answer to last Saturday’s tea time question number eight. It was about our favorite tree, and I went with my friends in saying Maples. I’ve changed my mind. As of now, I’m going with the Oak.
We are surrounded by trees. There is no direction we can look on our homestead without seeing tall trees, whole hillsides full of them. Our gardens barely show up on aerial views. We are living in the deep woods. As we have looked around at other farms over the past five years or so, we’ve come to realize how rare that is, and how much we appreciate the tree-cover.
The trees block the view of the road, and they muffle the noise of the highway traffic and Nestle factory that funnels down the sound corridor of the creek. They give us shade and shelter. At the top of our property stands an old line of ancient oaks. There may be a couple hickories in there. They stand like sentinels and I can’t help but feel that we do little more than share this place with them. They were here long before us, and I hope they will still be standing when we’re gone. Whenever I need a different perspective, I can go up the rise, to the line of oaks, and just stand with them. They have a nice view.
That’s not to say we’re opposed to cutting down trees. We did quite a lot of it in the first few years here. When we landed on this little farmstead, it was dense. There were two long fence rows of old cedars surrounding the house. There are were branches scratching at the roof, near enough for deranged male cardinals to perch by the windows and fight with themselves in the reflection. There wasn’t much room for a garden, nor much sunlight for one. It wasn’t easy to decide to cut down trees, but we haven’t regretted it, at all.
I’ve often laughed about it; if we had landed in a treeless flat of farmland somewhere, we would have been planting trees as fast as we could. Instead, we cleared an entire garden patch of about 25 years worth of growth. We’re still picking out the rotting stumps there, and working the perimeter so that it gets enough sun to produce something. We’ve taken down all but a few of the fence line cedars, and beaten back an intense thicket of plums which fairly well kept one of the old houses on the property from sight. The more trees we’ve cleared, the more flowers have grown, and the more air has circulated through the gardens and around the house. After nine years, we’re beginning to have enough of a clearing to see the forest for the trees.
On a day of hoeing, (and there are a lot of those lately) I stop to straighten my back in the middle of the row, and I look at the trees. These past few weeks, they are almost constantly in motion. Their branches are heavy with green leaves, and the they sway in relationship to the movement of the air. It’s a beautiful dance, and it serves to remind me to feel that movement around my own limbs as well. Trees tell us about the air. We can feel a breeze on our skin, but there have been many times that I’ve noticed the leaves more than my own skin. Often the singing, or roaring, of the wind in the hilltop trees tells me of the intensity of a storm on its way. Sometimes, only the leaves at the top of the tall trees are swaying, while the bottom air is quiet. Nothing verifies the stillness of dog day heat like the dusty, motionless leaves of late summer. But lately, the trees have only danced, as the soil has dried, and the garden has grown, the trees have clothed themselves in innumerable shades of emerald, the hallmark of early summer. We will know Summer’s wane by the aging of that green into something less new, but now, with the steadiness of this spring and the gentle rains, it’s all deep green.
As I was taught, in the Biodynamic model, we humans stand relatively inverted to plants and trees on the earth. Whereas the center of our intelligence is (supposedly) in our heads, at the top of our bodies, the plant’s ‘brain’ is in the roots. Our reproductive organs sit low in our trunk, while theirs lies high up in the limbs. What we breathe out, they breathe in, and vice versa (Thank Heavens!).
So, maybe when I go to walk the fence line with the oaks, I should stand on my head! Maybe not, but the image helps me understand something, when I think about things upside down.
When the evening comes, and we finally settle down, I become a tree. My head grows still and quiet, and the stimulations of the day, the soil, if you will, soaks in and circulates. In the stillness, my limbs grow stronger, and more ready to bear the weight and activities of daily life. There are my leaves, the works of my hands, all heavy and juicy this time of year; there are children, like birds and squirrels a-flutter with their activities among my branches; there are flowers then fruits to be made and shared.
And there is the air, the atmosphere that pervades life, inside and out. Sometimes the air is sweet like a dancer amidst my limbs, moving along with the works of my hands. If the wind dies down the danger of stagnation is disease, a slow suffering weakness in the periphery of my body and mind. I have to keep my trunk strong to resist rotting. Other times, the winds of life and soul rage and I have to trust my roots. On the other hand, it takes a strong wind to cut loose the leaves that are ready to fall, and break free the diseased branches for a good Spring cleaning. Though a gentle atmosphere is the most pleasant, I can only control my inner climate, and the external forces may not always be so mild. Nonetheless, all the changes, from stillness to severity, have their place in a long and healthy life.
(This paragraph could be associated with several interesting concepts in Yogic philosophy, but lately I’ve been lately thinking about the three Gunas (basic attributes of all manifestation, Prakruti): The two attributes of Sattva (light, intelligence, harmony), and Tamas (inertia, stagnation, darkness) could be seen as poised on either side of the attribute of Rajas, movement itself. Which way the wind blows, or doesn’t, depends on how these principles mix and balance. How a tree, or a person, withstands the conditions around it has to do with its own constitution in relationship to that mix. All three of these principles are necessary components of Prakruti, and each has its pitfalls. It’s interesting and amazingly relevant stuff.)
All in all, with my head close to the ground, roots growing deep, and my limbs in the sun stretching long and strong, the life in my core, my trunk, will be vital and I need not fear. I can be a good tree. Maybe even a mighty Oak one day. We all have our aspirations.
Long Live Trees!