Here is the latest assignment from the non-fiction writing class I’m taking.
I love trees. I don’t know why, but they thrill me to the core.
It’s not because of how they operate or what they do, the biology of trees. But now that I think about it, it really is kind of interesting and exciting that we breathe in what they breathe out and vice versa. That’s kind of neat. And when I think about the working of a tree, that it’s soaking up nutrients from the ground, and they course through its veins like blood…that’s amazing. But that’s not what I think about when I look at trees.
Really, I don’t think about anything when I look at trees. I just enjoy them. I just feel happy.
It snowed this morning, and I looked around at the scenery and all the trees draped in white. The bare branches covered in snow makes my heart happy. I can’t articulate clearly why it makes me happy, why I love it so, why it gives me such joy. But how do you explain why something is beautiful? You can tear it apart and discuss the details of structure and color, the use of texture and the skill of the artist, but that doesn’t really explain why you think it’s beautiful. The whys of beauty are bigger than that. When you see something beautiful, you don’t pick it apart in your mind. You don’t define the beauty. You feel it. It’s a recognition.
I think trees are harder to recognize in the spring and summer. They are more aloof then. Incognito. They cover themselves in rich clothing, and it’s exciting to behold; I am easily distracted. I get caught up in the thrill of their jewels and garments, and suddenly I myself am new and alive and rich beyond measure. I guess I’m busy being me and they are busy being trees.
In the winter, everything slows down again. Trees shed all their leaves and once again you can see who they really are. I never wondered if they were ashamed in their nakedness, because I know they’re not. They take it in stride. Standing up proud in all their natural beauty, they take the weather as it comes, soaking the sun into their bare skin and occasionally betraying a shiver in the cold wind.
In the winter, I often imagine the trees as people. I see young, smiling girls with mops of wild hair. There are tall matrons with their arms flung wide, fingers splayed open to catch every drop of sun. Little boys group together in packs, so closely intertwined that you can’t tell one from the other. Shy willows hide beneath their hair, braids pulled down in every direction and grown so long they brush the ground. Craggily old witches stoop bent and gnarled, their big knuckled fingers reaching out in every direction, better to catch you with, my dear. A couple of old men stand off a bit from the crowd, their dark, cracked, wizened old faces turned to each other as they mutter and mull over the day’s gossip.
Living in Virginia, I’m surrounded by trees. I can’t think of a single place I’ve been in Virginia that wasn’t somehow clothed in them. Of course we do have our bald hills and earth-turned farms, our sandy beaches and grassy pastures. And some of the larger cities are a scantily clad, but the trees are always right there on the edge looking in.
I once lived in the mountains, and I’ve seen bare green hillsides aplenty. I can still imagine the trees line up along the curve of every hill, soft as a caress, waiting patiently for an opportunity to repopulate the open spaces. They would throw their seeds out. They would make that slow steady march up the hillside. But it’s not time yet. They wait.
If you’ve ever been to the mountains, if you’ve ever looked out over a populated valley, then you can imagine the sight of thin lines of trees, one or two souls deep, ringing the plowed and planted and fallow fields. These custodian trees keep track of property lines and they know whose farms belong to whom. I’ve stood on hills and mountains, looking down and admiring the clean and even lines they make, dark green stitching that holds the patchwork quilt of farmland together.
I didn’t always love trees. It may have started in my early twenties, when I lived in a house with a little dogwood in the front yard. It had pink blossoms that seemed to float above the leaves and branches. I loved how the branches were tiered and layered one above the other; the overlapping groups of branches and leaves and blossoms were so lovely. That’s the first time I remember being enamored of a tree. I really fell in love with that tree.
I live in the country now, and everywhere I go I am ushered in and out by trees. They canopy over the long, languid hill that leads to my driveway and you can’t imagine the loveliness of that view in the aftermath of a winter snowstorm. In the summer it’s like driving home in green water. The sun trickles down through the leaves, and they shimmer and sparkle as they muster up a flutter for the breeze. I drive into that tree tunnel and the air is noticeably cooler. It’s so quiet, and the muted browns and greens and yellows surround me with calm.
Maybe this love affair with trees really took off when I moved in among them. At that time, my house was literally tucked into a clearing in the woods. I could look out of any window and see nothing but trees. I remember how amazingly three-dimensional the forest appeared to me from one window in particular. In the summer there were millions of glorious green leaves, and layer upon layer of fully laden limbs poking out over the grass where the woods and lawn met. In the winter I could see the moon peaking through so many bare limbs and branches. Everything was stacked up in layers, and you could distinguish them all.
The trees have been thinned out since I moved in. My amazing three-dimensional view is no more, but I can get it back when I close my eyes. Still, I can see trees from anywhere in the house, and that’s a comfort. In the backyard they have dropped their acorns and seed pods, trying to plant a new crop in my lawn. I cut them down at their base and two weeks later they’ve sprouted up again.
They speak to me of tenacity and a will to live.
I’ve wondered why I feel such an affinity for trees, but I’ve never before taken the time to mull it over or analyze the reasons why. I just knew that if I went out into my own front yard, walked up under the trees and looked up, it would make me happy. No matter the season, whether I’m looking up into a canopy of green, or I’m looking up through the bare branches in all their different shapes and textures and configurations, I feel joy.
I feel alive. I feel connected, like we’re in this together.
Have you ever met someone, or even just glanced across a room and met a stranger’s eye, and in that tiny moment you recognize a kindred spirit and you just know that you are friends? Is it possible to be kindred spirits with the trees? It’s as though we are cut from the same cloth, as though we know each other. Or rather, we recognize each other. I think if the trees could talk, we would have such lovely long conversations. We would sit there, breathing each other’s air, and we would listen close and understand each other perfectly.
But maybe that’s just my imagination run wild, the effects of their calming influence over me. Or maybe it’s just an emotional manifestation of their beauty.
Maybe it doesn’t matter why I love trees. Maybe not needing to understand is why I don’t think about anything when I look at them. I just appreciate…and recognize. I just feel.