Have you ever seen anything as lovely as a tree? I grew up in Michigan where trees thrived in abundance, both down state and up. The state in the shape of a mitten with a rabbit suspended above it, Michigan’s peninsulas had large swaths of state and national forests. Once heavily logged, most of that has died down now. But I digress.
As a child spending a few years first at Indian Lake just outside of Manistique in the Upper Peninsula, then a while later in Manistique itself, I found speechless solace from trees, pines in particular. There has always been something primal about them, as if I knew them from a previous age, an earlier lifetime. Their fragrance, pungent and cleansing, moves me to this day. In a way, then as now, trees became my salvation from a lackless childhood.
water and pine
Let’s Go a Tromping
I recall vividly, as if the memories are seared in my neurons, letting my imagination run wild, picturing myself as Hiawatha maybe, or a fur trapper, or possibly just a simple pioneer woman. Tromping through the woods I was able not just to leave the monotony of daily living, but more importantly, to invent a larger life. Moreover, in combination with the richness of forested soil wafting up to greet me, I felt unspeakably connected to nature.
And not just to nature, mind you. I felt at one with some larger part of the Universe. Now I would name that “part” infinity, with an absolute authentic indivisible spirit as part of everything else in the firmament. That included some sense of God. I grew up with a very confused perception of divinity yet, while in the woods, there was no confusion. IT felt known.There was nothing but pure connection, and reliable at that. I understood the concept of Zen long before I ever heard the word–through the experience of the woods.
northern pine forest
Then as now, that connection is instantaneous when immersed in the forest. Pine and birch trees were my “first loves”, the delivery system of God, at least for me. Yet I have grown to love and appreciate all kinds of trees. Living in California for nearly 20 years, I developed an intense love affair with eucalyptus trees. Not only are they interesting (over a thousand varieties), but that fragrance! Oddly, with each inhalation I become transformed. No, not transformed exactly, returned–returned to the Absolute. How is it I can breathe them in and be expanded, healed, larger than my former self?
Maybe that is why, at least in part, I plan the next chapter of my life, to return not to Michigan but to the woods, as I forge a path towards a more serious retirement. Their draw is magnetic, pulling me to creaking branches, needles beneath my feet, and, oh yes, the fragrance of God that is the peace that passes understanding.