Desert is magnificent and spectacular, truly a landscape that hollows out a place and crawls inside us to take up residence. The same with rocky shorelines and the undulating beaches along sun soaked coasts. I get why it is that certain topography and flora evoke a sense of home for people – I even feel that way about the flat expanse of freshly ploughed fields in the Heartland, especially in spring when the fragrance of moist rich soil permeates the air.
But I need trees.
I need lots of trees, particularly the chaotic diversity of a Deciduous Forest. Four distinct and rigorous seasons flavor such forests with maple, oak, birch, pine and fir carpeted beneath by a luscious riot of ferns and wildflowers melting year to year into a spectacularly fertile soil.
Trees are gods.
No, I’m not a Druid nor crazy. But truly, have you ever stared at a tree long enough to see its soul? Have you ever put your face inches from a tree as if it were your lover, and felt the energy between you? No? Well, damn-it, go try it.
In my yard, just beyond the window where I often write, stands an oak flanked by three spruces. Not far away three River Birches spread their beauty; more reddish than their cousin the Silver Birch, they shed year round with their paper barks jittering in the wind. The oak hangs onto her leaves all winter, curled fists of brittle brown parchment quavering yet holding tight through the fiercest winter gales that rush down the mountain and across the lake doing their best to scatter them.
Each of these trees, like every tree, has a unique personality once you get to know it. But you have to get to know them in order to discern their character. Like any intimacy, such knowledge comes from experience – touch, smell, sound, and sight, even taste if you dare. And time.
Living together through seasons and knowing how each one makes it through winter, drinks up spring, thrives in summer, and prepares through autumn grants the kind of relationship I’m talking about. Because trees move so slowly, breathe so silently, and change so subtly most of the time, it is not like learning to know a dog or a friend. It requires much more curiosity on our part, much more active solicitation and rigorous perception.
I am particularly close to the oak, a kind of rugged friend through thick and thin, while the River Birches are women at the bar I flirt with. There is a willow at the edge of our property I whisper to as I ride near her on my John Deere, and at the corner of our house a dwarf ornamental is crabby in an endearing way.