3 Lessons from a Tree

The needles of white pine, Pinus strobus, are rich in vitamin C and can be used as a refreshing tea or the bath. As a child I used to play with the brown fallen needles to make giant nests and insulate winter forts.

I spent many hours as a child in the arms of a white pine.

The branches of this perfect tree were spaced just right for climbing higher and higher. Near the top a fork formed, ideal for sitting and surveying the neighborhood. My best friend and I called the  spot the “crow’s nest,” and that is where we took on the persona of squirrels and hung out.

I remember on one particularly windy day we fearlessly climbed our tree. The top swayed with the wind and we joyfully waved our arms and shouted, our breath full of the freshness of the day and our hearts soaring like the real crows above us.

Our revelry ended abruptly when an adult showed up on the scene and franticly ordered us to descend. I remember feeling no fear until her suggestion of it wafted up to me, and then like a kitten I clutched the trunk and panicked. Fortunately that moment only temporarily grounded us and we returned to the nurturing presence of the tree again and again.

I visited that tree today. Stripped of it’s branches some 40 years later, it stands more like an obelisk than the tree of my youth, but I still love to be near it. The smell of the sap reminds me of sticky hands and feet at the end of a long day of climbing.

The way the sun illuminates the long soft needles catches my heart and hurls me into childhood memories.

As I walked around the tree today I wondered how many kids still climb trees, or even spend hours and hours outside, day after day. I couldn’t help but think they might fall out of the tree “snapping” or texting or whatever it is they do these days. And then I thought about how much this tree taught me as a child that is still with me: 

  1. Strength – something about the unwavering strength of my tree, withstanding adverse weather, rising into the sky with a stance of power, plus the muscles I built simply from regular climbing imbued me with confidence in my strength. Later this strength helped me advocate for myself and persevere in my endeavors.

  2. Connection – the roots of the white pine are close to the surface and I used to love to trace them as they reached outward. Here, close to the ground I studied the blanket of spent needles, the ants that crawled over and under, the spongey feel of the loam around the roots and the pattern of connecting roots from neighboring pines. Aloft in the branches I felt how the tree met the sky above, greeted the birds and offered a broader perspective of my world. As an adult I deeply value relationships, even brief interactions with people I meet along a busy day. I want to make an effort every day to connect honestly with others and especially make space to honor my relationships with nature. 

  3. Love – long before I ever heard of such a thing, I was a tree-hugger. I’d wrap my arms around the trunk and press my cheek against the scratchy bark. I would listen and imagine I could feel the heartbeat of the tree pulsate through me. The exercise was meditative and reassuring. From some place deep within me I understood the importance of unconditional love and acceptance. An inner knowing that we are loved and not alone feeds our sense of strength and connection.

These three qualities allow us to be like a tree, passing them on to others by example, through service and by giving from the heart. I think about my parents and so many mentors throughout my life who have stood strong and loving for me, and I pray that I can do the same for others. Want to practice being more like a tree?Put your arms up and sway to this song: Branching Out by John Gorka.

Plant a tree this Arbor Day, or support the Arbor Day Foundation – their work is wonderful!

Did you climb trees as a kid? Do your children climb trees? I’d love to hear about a tree that has impacted your life too.

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