I wrote a blog recently on how all trees across the globe have the ability to heal people. For me there is one species though that I find particularly special. It is called the Apple Leaf.
My sense of kinship with this tree and the extremity of my fear response if anyone drives within ‘squashing range’ of a young one is so strong that I get teased about it by the rest of the ranging team. I have always found them to hold such an innate quirkiness and sense of humour. Very often they grow on their own; solitary figures in the savannah, seemingly unafraid to do things their own way. They grow at crazy angles, exploring whatever direction they feel drawn to and their resultant form is one of such beautiful individuality. Some look to me like ‘hippy’ woman and they each seem to have such interesting personalities and stories to tell. But what strikes me most about these trees is how gentle and slow they allow their growth process to be.
So much of what I struggle with is chasing a sense of purpose. I get attached to the idea that there are things to be done and places to be and that when I get there, I’ll get the sense of satisfaction I’m looking for. When I’m there, then I can rest. When I’m there, everything will be perfect. What these trees teach me though is that here is where they rest, here is where their purpose is, and most importantly, here is where they’re at home.
They seem to understand that home is not some place outside of themselves, some end goal, but a place created within. And whatever direction it is that they’re growing in, they allow the process to be slow.
In fact, Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees, actually argues that this slow growth is core to their success. In forests, mother trees actually prevent their young saplings from shooting for the sky by shading their offspring with their large, mature crowns. In the forests Wohlleben studied, the parent trees only allowed through three percent of sunlight, just enough for the young plant to survive. This may seem cruel but in fact it is an act of kindness because slow growth is key to the long life span of a tree. With slow growth, the inner woody cells stay tiny and contain almost no air, which make the trees much more flexible and resistant to breaking. Wind storms can hit a tree with the equivalent force of 220 tons and if there is a weak spot, the trunk will easily snap. This slow growth makes them much more hardy.
The tough trunks also help to protect the young tree from fungi infestations and they can manage injuries because they easily compartmentalise the wound before any decay occurs. Then years later (like a crazy two hundred years later in the case of beech trees!) when the mother tree dies and comes crashing to the forest floor, it opens a gap for the younger tree to get sunlight exposure and thus shoot for the sky. It can then grow rapidly but with an incredibly sturdy foundation. Years of patience pay off and it can grow to become a forest giant, with deep tapping, well-established roots that then give rise to the next generation of saplings.
A friend recently shared this poem by Herman Hesse, which in the most beautiful way, captured these thoughts for me on how trees, through stillness, patience and an ancient intelligence, create a sense of home within themselves.
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves…
When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.
So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.
The path to healing lies inside you. And when you can learn to carry the forest within you, you realise there is nothing to be done, there is nowhere you need to be. “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.” Knowing this, like the Apple Leaf, you are always home.