Every child needs a tree. In my mind I can map the one acre yard in which I spent my childhood by the trees that were my companions, refuges, dream spaces. Now I understand why these kindred spirits are part of every childhood memory. Children and trees share a common language, the language of now. Tree and child are fully present in their skin, soaking up nutrients coursing through root and vein, whole worlds of transformation and growth bubbling beneath the surface.
Four cherry trees, an oasis of white blossoms in the spring and sweet fruit in the summer grew on a scraggly piece of land we called a pasture. One of the branches served as hitching post when the farrier came to care for pony hooves. I could only reach the ripe fruit with a boost from my paint, Dolly. She patiently stood beneath the branches as I snacked, cherry juice staining her white coat as it dripped from my fingers. In my cowgirl reverie, Dolly and I were explorers in the wild west and the cherry trees a source of survival and sustenance; with cherry trees and wild blackberry bushes, why ever go home?
In the far east corner of the backyard, the beloved pussy willow, buds soft as lamb’s ears beckoned. Who could imagine such a magical being? Stroking the silky teardrop tips stilled the soul. The companionable trunk split at its base, just wide enough to shelter a small girl seeking solitude; a room of her own. Snuggling in the crook felt like an embrace, Mother Nature’s womb.
North of the pussy willow, in what seemed a distant land but in reality was perhaps fifty feet away, the mighty maple summoned with branches that, in a child’s eyes, were ladders through an emerald city and straight to the moon. On a windy day I was aboard a ship at sea, green sails flapping. And on a still, calm summer day, the maple and I had all the time in the world to ponder the spackled light and shadows; feel the ants and spiders tickling bark and skin; savor life from an enchanted perspective while still deeply rooted, the maple in soil, and me within the maple. Time doesn’t exist for child or tree, only sunlight, breeze and breath.
The guardian of all, a frothy green evergreen smack dab in the center of the front yard. Life orbited around this stoic giant. It offered no welcoming low limbs or accessible shelter, but a presence that emanated safety. In my memory its branches shaded my whole world; snow draped limbs watched over me as I made snowmen in the winter, white flakes sifting through needles. Summertime meant a steady shower of pinecones and a chore for me on lawn mowing days. Circling its trunk in a widening arc, flinging the scaly cones into the woods, the evergreen was my anchor, an unchanging entity.
As tree climbing days faded away, my arc expanded outside of that safe one acre world, but my spirit has remained firmly rooted with those first steady arboreal companions; those trusted beings with whom I dreamt, escaped, awakened.
In these days of middle age, my feet are securely planted on earth. Instead of climbable limbs, I’m drawn to wise weathered skin, wind twisted trunks, fire scarred bark; a particular slant of light through a canopy and the myriad soul quenching shades of green. Is it possible they have all been named? Instead of wondering how high I can scramble, I’m intrigued by what’s going on below the surface. I’m not surprised scientists have discovered that beneath earth, trees are intimately connected, communicating through roots, helping each other to heal and grow. I marvel at the coastal redwoods that soak up sea sourced fog as it envelops them, and in turn share valuable nutrients with the life within and below; a benevolent sprinkler system. Redwoods contain worlds within worlds, as do I. There’s still the little girl with the cherry stained pony and bark skinned knees, the mother of three, and a woman seeking deeper truths; a human grateful that as a child, my soul connected with trees.