A few months ago I sat next to a tree and leaned my back on its smooth bark. From the top of my head, down my spine, and into the ground a long, violent shiver traveled. Tears sprung out of my eyes and I shook uncontrollably. Then with all its might, I felt the tree behind me, its roots became my roots, its branches my branches, its trunk my trunk. I exhaled one long, long exhale and then just sat there with an empty mind, motionless.
Since that day, trees have become my sanctuary. I actively search trees now to spend time in their presence. I laugh at times, thinking about myself as a tree-hugger. But really, that’s not it at all. This is a raw need to be in the presence of such grounding force. In the presence of those who simply are. To inhale the fresh, mossy air surrounded by decades, centuries of Being – simply being, not because they have to, they need to, or they should, but because they just are – trees.
Since my son and puppy join me on most walks around the island, they have become my accomplices in search of trees. We go on expeditions, some initiated by me, but many initiated by my son, looking for trees to sit with. The first tree we have found and fell in love with we call our Barbeque House. It is a large, scarred with life, half dry, half growing strong pine tree whose undergrowth resembles a cave. Almost every walk we take ends with me sitting and leaning my back on the rough, by now achingly familiar bark, while my son cooks us dinner. He serves barbecued meat (pine needles), fresh green salad (leaves from a nearby shrub), and for dessert, bananas with chocolate (twigs with soil) and jelly (different kind of leaves). We eat with much gusto and satisfaction. My son actually bites a few of the leaves. I suppress the adult need to tell him not to and smile instead.
Another tree we visit is a relatively young, perhaps not even a hundred years old, olive tree with limbs we can climb and sit on comfortably. It becomes our Hotel: we lounge around and have a pizza party and a cake in that tree.
And then there are the two Ancients: one is the tallest and the other the broadest olive tree I have ever seen. They are both easily several hundred years old. Just thinking about them gives me shivers. The first we discovered during an expedition that took us deep into rarely visited olive groves packed full with an assortment of brambles. Peppered with burrs of all types and struggling to lift our feet high enough into the air to avoid further damage to our trousers, we arrive to a clearing surrounded on three sides by a tall stonewall. The Castle, my son names this place. The wall comes down on one side so that he can climb on top of it. While he pronounces himself the King of the Castle, I stare – at the tallest olive tree I have ever seen. Its branches are so high up that even deep in December it hasn’t been picked; all its beautiful, black fruit is still hanging on and will continue to do so until it falls off on its own. This olive tree exists simply for its presence. Drawn by an irresistible force, I gingerly lower myself next to it and sink in deep while the sun warms my peaceful face.
The other Ancient is our newest find. It is stout and steady and sits in a middle of a grassy field we have stumbled upon recently while trying to find a new way home from the Barbecue House. The energy around the tree is so palpable I literally sink to my knees before even reaching it.
“Wow!” exclaims my son.
I nod. “Wow!” is right.
I am humbled beyond words. And as I kneel under this tree I realize what a gift it is to be in the presence of earthly things, and by this I don’t mean just nature, but all that comes with this life here on Earth. My own path so far took me from being excruciatingly overwhelmed by the messiness of life, to detaching myself from it, to finally plunging back into it, though this time – with awareness. I am standing deep in the muddle, littered with pine needles and hugged tight by brambles, with my eyes open, fully aware and cherishing the mess I am in.
This here life is perfect.