Home Is Where Your Trees Are

Photo offered under a Creative Commons License by absolut xman

Home Is Where Your Trees Are. Part 1

There they stand, the Trees, by far the largest living things we know, rooted fast in the earth with their heads raised to heaven. And they are there, or so we may tell ourselves, for our special benefit. Close contemplation of a tall tree can arouse animal awe, if not reverence, in the most heedless mind. Put your hands on the massive bole. Look up through the soaring complex of limbs and fingers stretching aloft and outward for sunlight. Reflect that this is not a cold inanimate object like a stone, but a viable organism quick with protoplasmic life in every part, from the tenderest leaflets in its crown to gossamer filaments in the hidden root system. The ground space that its supporting sinews grip for security and probe for nourishment is even greater than the crown's wide spread of shade. Though it is insensate and - Aristotle notwithstanding - has no consciousness as animals know it, yet a tree has body temperature, circulation, digestion, sensitivities, and a cycle of growth and decline which, while far slower, is no less inexorable than an animal's.

Men are children of the sea, who crept forth and were nurtured by the earth. The earth-rooted trees are their greatest and oldest friends. Men have always known this and, whenever they could do so, have made their homes where trees grew, or have brought trees to their homes. Trees used to mean shelter, food, fuel, and weapons. Later they stood simply for the beauty and love of home. farfetched in prefacing a book intended only to render trees more understandable and manageable. It is ventured because people seldom seek to understand or manage anything they don't enjoy. And a great many people don't realize how much they do, or might, enjoy trees until they think into them instead of just looking at them and seeing only woods. In this, the esthetic sense, a tree resembles a work of art. "I like it," a man will say, "but I don't know why."

No reason is necessary. The hieing, the sense of a need being gratified by trees, is enough. But underlying gratification there is always cause, and to catch a glimmering of any cause is to sharpen its effect. When a man says, "I love that tree," he means the same as when he says, "That picture does something for me." He will the more convince himself (as well as you) if he can continue, "Because it seems to buttress my house," or "Because it commands all my grounds," or "It gives us shade in summer and a windbreak in winter." Or he may say, "We often sit out under it and watch the night." Some people personalize their trees: "There's grandpa, there's grandma, and that grove beyond is the rest of the family." Birth, marriage, and death trees are still planted by many families as a matter of course. In his dawntime, mankind often worshipped trees, inhabiting them with gods or demons which had to be propitiated. Later the health and fortunes of individuals were linked with specific trees. Then a man's tree was protected by his friends to protect his life. Evil spirits could be drawn out of sick persons by splitting a trunk and passing the patient between, or by hanging on the boughs or laying in a crotch something taken from the sufferer, such as clothing or nail-clippings.