This post first appeared in The Finger Lakes Times (NY), on August 1, 2017, in the weekly series, “Denim Spirit.” http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-befriending-a-tree/article_092d7756-ccd9-5a5b-a285-d077c082fcee.html
Oak trees are introverted; slightly standoffish but once a bond is formed, profoundly genuine. I suppose it is possible that not everyone knows trees have distinct personalities, both by genus and as individuals. True story.
Maples are generally extroverted and often moody. Beech trees, as they get older, tend to become supercilious. Sycamores, one of my favorites, are kind and authentic, and make the best of friends. River Birch, a rare breed in this part of the world, are party animals but in an ebullient and fun kind of way rather than sloppy or garish. Seriously.
There is a middle-aged oak in the yard next door that shades my patio, and I think we have finally become friends. It has been ten months of relationship building and for a time, I was not certain whether she was going to ever give me the time of day. Because she is not on my property, I am reticent to go up and touch her as is normally required in order to make friends with a tree. So ours has been a relationship of distance, more intuitive and suggestive than explicit or sensual.
Please do not tell her I said so, but she is not beautiful in the way middle-aged oaks often mature – with grand and graceful arms lowering to embrace the world in every direction. She has a good many branches herself, but akimbo and at odd angles. Still, my intimate neighbor hosts an entire community of birds and squirrels with generous hospitality. Jays, woodpeckers, cardinals, and robins enjoy her endlessly, and she them. Because oaks hang onto their brown, coarse leaves over the winter until new green ones pinch them off in the spring, her pleasant demeanor is year-round.
Now, please, do not simply roll your eyes or shake your head. Instead, find a tree and enter into relationship with him or her (they are gendered). Because it is an inter-species relationship, not even mammal to mammal as with dogs and cats, it may require more time – and certainly more nurture on your part. Trust me, the rewards are great.
Specifically, to give ourselves into relationship with any living thing is to enhance our own humanity.
When we care about, endow with affection, and sense dear interdependence with anyone or anything, we ripen our own capacity to love and be loved. Conversely, when we circle the wagons around our own kind, our own family, or our own special interests, in such a way as to prevent our bonds of affection from tunneling through those boundaries, our humanity shrivels. We may not notice it, like the proverbial frog in boiling water does not recognize its doom, but the society of living things within the footprint of our days will be diminished. True story.
My oak friend is smiling now, recognizing my attention and also, that she has been the occasion for reflection on life abundant. One of the great things about having a tree for a friend, is that they never go anywhere.