Trees have always been an important part of my life. When I was young, I climbed them and went up as high as I could go. Those trees were my friends and I felt safe as I rested in their arms. Later, when I was eight, my parents divorced. Mother had to sell our house, and we moved into an apartment.
Gone, were my climbing trees in the backyard. But another tree was there waiting for me, to welcome me into my new house and its presence. Our second story apartment had a bay window and just outside the it stood a huge Catalpa tree. It was spring when I first met that tree and it was blooming, a sweet perfume floating on the air.
I couldn’t climb it but through the next years, I watched it bloom, listened to the wind rustling through the leaves, and followed the changing of the season by its colors. The tree and I had a special, spiritual relationship. I loved it for its beauty but also for the sense of connection I needed during a difficult childhood and teenage years.
Adulthood brought college, marriage, children and somehow, I lost touch with trees. There were so many other things to focus on in my life. Then nature, and specifically trees, once again, became important in my life and awakened my love for them. I realized he connection I’d always had was still there, just set on the shelf.
The campground was empty except for me. Summer students had gone back to school, the cabins were closed up, and fall had arrived. As I walked, I kicked through the yellow leaves, tossing them around, and listened to the scrunch. For an unknown reason, I paused, then walked to a large tree and put my arms around it. I stood there for several minutes, holding it. Then I looked toward the sky and only then did I realize the tree had died.
Why was I hugging a dead tree? I had no rational explanation, only a strong feeling that was deep within me telling me it was what I was supposed to do.
It’s always been that way, this sense of call to connect with trees and all of nature. Sometimes it’s a tree I’m supposed to hug, or it might be to pick up a rock that tells me a story about who I am, or lift my face to blowing winds to feel its caress. Once, while driving on the interstate, I saw the body of a deer along the side of the road. I felt that same kind of call to stop, but didn’t. After sharing my story of the deer with a medicine woman, I was told that it wasn’t too late. Reminded by her that time is circular, not linear, I could still stop and spend time with it.
It wasn’t until several years later I finally did that, with the guidance of my healing touch therapist. With her help, I sat with the deer, felt it’s life energy still present and knew that I was supposed to be with it while its spirit left, comfort it, and receive its breath during the final moments of life. It was an experience that lays within my memory, fills my heart, and brings a sense of connection.
When I worked as a chaplain in a large trauma hospital, I felt the same internal call. Contacted by nurses when a patient died, if there was no family present, I would sit with the body, until I felt sure the spirit was no longer present.
I can’t say that I understand what all of this is about and it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, there is a sense of connection so powerful, that I feel one with it. It isn’t often I stop to hug a tree, but when I do, it’s as though the energy of the tree is calling to me. I don’t normally know what the tree is trying to say to me.
What is it I am giving to the tree? What do I receive from the tree? I believe it is a connection to the very root of creation, nature, or something this is beyond me. Something that is not manufactured by people but by a creator spirit. I have difficulty finding the words to explain what may be unexplainable. What I know is that the tree, the leaf, the flower—they are so beautiful, I am taken a place I can’t get to normally except when I am in nature and alone
Sadly, I live in a world that doesn’t value tree huggers. Many of us have lost touch with what really matters to the heart and soul. Those things that can connect us in the deepest core of our being. And it hurts. It hurts the tree, it hurts our world, and it brings deep sorrow to me. Though I see broken places, I know they can be healed if more of us would hug trees.