A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
This picture is my computer's wallpaper at present. There are many similar photos to be found on the internet and on greetings cards. They are well-liked because they are so beautiful. Commonly they depict a lone tree with the sun's rays shining through its branches. Often the tree is near the brow of a hill, with the sunlight shining in radial shafts from its centre.
The tree stops you in your tracks, it seems to speak to you. Although you don't necessarily understand what it's saying, it speaks of a mystery, as if it were a secret portal to another realm. According to the book of Exodus, Moses had this experience when he encountered the burning bush in the desert. ("Bush" is only a guess; the original Hebrew word is only used in this one place). The story goes that God spoke to Moses from a bush that burned with a fire that did not destroy it - rather like the tree in the picture; the sun also burns with perpetual fire.
Symbolically, a tree stands with its roots buried deep in the nourishment of the Earth, its trunk shoulder to shoulder with the human race, and its branches reaching up to heaven. Thus it acts as a bridge between three worlds. In Shaman practice the tree acts as a pathway for journeys of the soul. The phrase "touch wood" originates in the pagan custom of going to a tree for healing or for guidance.
Often, when a tree stands alone in a field or at the top of a hill, people get to know and love it. They feel that as long as that tree stands, no matter how bad things may get, there is still hope. The felling of landmark trees attracts fierce opposition. In 1997, Julia Butterfly Hill climbed into a 1500 year-old Californian redwood tree threatened with destruction and stayed there through all weathers for 738 days in a successful campaign to save it. Other famous trees include the Glastonbury Thorn and the Honor Oak, as well as many less famous ones like the Brenchley Oak in Kent.
Sometimes a single tree standing alone acts like a lighting conductor. Lightning tears off branches, scorches the bark and leaves the tree twisted and disfigured. But it still stands, like Paul Simon's boxer, the fighter still remains. Then it can seem as if it has acquired magical properties - like Harry Potter it has taken on power from its adversary, the power to endure:
Down in the meadow where the wind blows free,
In the middle of a field stands a lightning tree.
Its limbs all torn from the day it was born
For the tree was born in a thunderstorm.
Grow, grow, the lightning tree, it's never too late for you and me;
Grow, grow, the lightning tree, never give in too easily.
(The Lightning Tree by The Settlers)
Perhaps we really can learn something from the trees. Like them, we too can be a bridge between Earth and heaven, (as St Francis said: "Let me be a channel for your peace"), so that people may come to us for healing and guidance; so that when we suffer tragedy, we can hold fast and endure; so that people may say of us: As long as there are people like them, there is still hope.