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October 19, 2021 6 min read

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
From Wandering: Notes and Sketches, by Hermann Hesse

 

 

We can learn a lot in the company of trees if we know how to look and listen, to hear their quiet truths. They may seem passive and immobile, but they are quite clever. And a forest is a magical place, especially if left undisturbed.  

 

I love that trees grow together in communities in their forests and woods, each tree independent and unique and also invisibly interconnected through their roots with everything that surrounds them. Peaceful. Harmonious. 

 

They thrive in the company of others. A tree standing alone is at risk to the elements. Together, communities of trees create their own ecosystem where they can store water, protect each other from heat, cold and wind. And every tree is valuable to the community.

 

They care for each other in times of need, sending nutrients to others via webs of interconnected roots and fungal networks.

 

Like us, they communicate through their senses, their sense of smell and taste, using taste to repulse enemies and scent to attract friends and to warn fellow trees of invaders.

 

They clean the air and the soil of pollutants, making the environment healthier.

 

They have a sense of time, knowing just when to loosen their sap, to begin to bud or to let go of their leaves.

 

It takes years…trees move and grow very slowly…. But they can live for hundreds and even for thousands of years if left undisturbed. Resisting disease, insects, even fires. The only thing they can’t resist is a chain saw.

 

When they die, their entire life history can be read in the rings of the trunks.

 

They carry ancient wisdom in their cells.

 

Trees have a lot to teach us!  We can take example from their sense of community and compassion. To me, trees reaching for the sky while rooting deeply into the earth stand for strength, steadiness, flexibility, comfort and wisdom, patience and perseverance.  And they can be a source of inspiration.

 

 

THE GIANT SEQUOIA

The most magical, mystical trees I’ve encountered are the Giant Sequoias growing naturally only in a small area of the Sierra Nevada range northern California.  

They are amongst the largest organisms on the planet. Redwood trees (looks very similar but is a different species) grow taller, but no trees are as big by volume as the sequoias: their trunks can grow to 100 feet wide, their branches can be 8 feet in diametre, their bark grows up to 3 feet thick. In fact the largest living organism on the planet is a Giant Sequoia know as the General Sherman Tree.

They are also amongst the oldest living organisms on the planet, some can live for 3,000 years. Imagine the history and the world wisdom grown into each of the cells of these giant trees!  What they must have witnessed in their time.

Walking in a forest of Giant Sequoias is a unique experience, it’s like nowhere else in the world. You wander while looking up and marvelling, you want to touch the trees to absorb their energy, you want to sit and listen to their silent messages. You want to stay. Hushed and majestic…it’s like being in the most beautiful cathedral, where the only thing to worship is to grandeur and the endurance of nature. These trees are witnesses of hundreds and thousands of years of history, links to our past. They are precious treasures which must be safe-guarded for future generations, their wisdom left intact.

Sadly, we have very few old-growth trees and undisturbed forests left in the world. The last remaining the Giant Sequoias are at risk right now from the intense wild fires burning across California. And many have already been lost.  

 

The lesson I learned from the the majestic Giant Sequoia comes from the seed.  What struck me the most was that these majestic giants begin as a tiny seed that is safeguarded in a tiny cone. Not a large cone like you might expect from such a giant, but a tiny little cone that's not even 2” long. And this reminds me that grand and enduring things can begin very, very small. I keep a pair of tiny giant sequoia cones on my desk altar to remind me of this as I work away on growing my HUM business dream.

In the photo on the left, notice the hiker in the lower left corner (my husband)...shows you the scale of the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove, Yosemite.

  

THE JACK PINE

A little closer to home…I’ve recently become re-acquainted with the Jack Pine. So different from the grand and rare Giant Sequoia, the Jack Pine is quite common in Canada. It’s recognizable by its uniquely scraggly shape, crooked and bent, as though hunkering down protectively, growing to whatever shape it needs to be to benefit from the conditions available. Each Jack Pine has its own unique character.

The Jack Pine has been immortalized in the work of Tom Thompson and has become symbolic of our harshly beautiful Canadian landscapes.

It may not be beautiful or statuesque, but it has some very clever survival strategies. What makes it unique is its ability to survive and even to thrive in the poorest and harshest conditions. It can grow in poor soil or on rocky landscapes, spreading its roots wherever it can. It makes the best of whatever it can find. And eventually, the Jack Pine actually changes the quality and the very nature of the soil it grows on, so that other trees and plants can grow along with them in newly nutrient rich soil.

Jack Pine cones are held tightly closed with a glue-like resin. They need the intense heat of fire to melt the resin and release the seeds so that a new generation of jack pine can germinate and grow. The serotinous cones have another little trick - when the intense fire opens the cones, some are released right away, but a portion of the seeds are held snuggly in the cone, waiting long enough for the ground to cool, and only then are they released.  Such a great example of how destruction can lead to creation. 

Their cones safely harbour viable seeds for many many years until the right conditions come along to release them. They can stay on the branches just waiting to be released for decades. You often see several generations of pine cones on a single Jack Pine. 

 

The lessons I’ve learned from this ecological marvel lie in its ability to survive and thrive in the harshest of conditions.  Jack Pines inspire me to make the most with the resources I have at hand, reminding me that things can organically get better as they grow. And Jack Pines are a model of patience and perseverance, such valuable qualities in any project you take on. 

The Jack Pine by Tom Thompson, in the National Gallery of Canada since 1918.

  

THE TREE POSE

Balancing in Tree Pose (Vrksasana), you can image that your standing foot has strong and deep roots that solidly ground and steady you. Like a tree, you can imagine your roots also connect you with others all around you, whether you can see them or not. 

While you are rooting down, your hands reach to the sky, like branches they reach for the light and nourishment, they reach for the stars.

You can be playful in tree pose, wave your branches, balancing and swaying like a tree in the wind, solidly grounded by your roots. All the while, breathing mindfully into your trunk, aware of each free movement, each connection.

 

The lessons I find in Tree Pose have to do with finding centre. Whenever I’m off-centre, whenever I wobble or feel frazzled, balancing on one strong leg in Tree Pose helps me focus inward, to come back to centre and to what’s important. Tree Pose is a way to collect yourself, to feel instantly calm, to feel connected to both the earth and the universe. It’s also a place to gather your hands together a heart centre to remind yourself of the beauty and bounty that fills your life, in a moment of appreciation. Perhaps this is why it’s my favourite yoga pose.

Why not try a Tree Pose today? You can do it anywhere. No mat required. It takes just a couple of minutes. And you will feel instantly steady, calm and connected.

 


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