In Community with the Oaks

Most of the old and stately oaks in our forest have dropped their leaves. We have had a few good snowstorms this winter, some ice, and lots of wind and rain. It is not a surprise that the tree line is mostly barren deciduous branches. This clear and distinct iteration of our winter tree line is comforting. It offers clear view of the oak’s strength. The stout trunk and wide reaching branches tell of each tree’s decades of steady presence. They bear witness to the changing seasons in both the field and the forest. In the summer, they host all manner of species in their branches and at their roots. In this mid-winter time, there are fewer visitors and less activity from those who are there. While the frozen earth sleeps, the branches seem to reach toward the sky with a sigh. This is the deep winter rest from which buds and leaves will emerge. This is the deep peace that balances midsummer’s busy-ness. I appreciate these trees from a distance. It is the only way that I can take them all in, from the heights of their tops to the depths of the roots.

A few feet into the field from the great grandmother oaks, there is a line of younger oak trees. They are no taller than 10 feet and their trunks are no thicker than my forearm (which is pretty thin, by the way). These trees are still holding onto their leaves, as oaks often do. Maybe they are more protected than the taller, more exposed trees. Or maybe they are a different species with a tighter hold on their leaves than the others. Either way, these young ones have caught my attention.

With my awareness absorbed, I am freed from my human mind and body for a few moments. Invited into the more than human world, the self-reflective chatter in my mind quiets. My senses awaken. Lights and sounds become brighter and louder. I notice the chickadee who has been calling incessantly from the top of one of the trees. It feels as though roots are sprouting from the soles of my feet, penetrating the soles of my boots and the half frozen ground as my arms lift to the sky. I recognize the stature of the tree in my body. I feel its connection to earth and sky. I feel my connection to earth and sky. No, I am not turning into a tree. I am noticing myself in relationship with the trees. In community, the difference between us dissolves and we become one. (More on community another time)

The leaves of the young trees wave on the slightest breeze. When I walk by, I feel like they are greeting me. I have begun to greet them. It began innocently enough, just a growing silent awareness. Now I find myself talking to them and singing to them. The other day, I walked by without noticing, absorbed by some abstract rambling in my head. I raced back to apologize and offer them my heartfelt greeting. The spirits of these trees are joyful and laughing. They feel both young and oh so wise. They hang on to their leaves but waggle them at me playfully, reminding me not to hold on to anything too tightly or take myself so seriously. They invite me into kinship with the wider world. I am delighted to be in relationship with them. Their friendship makes me smile.

I feel grateful to have cultivated these new forest friends. I am also aware of how much relationship there is to be nurtured. The forest surrounding our field has hundreds of trees and I have singled out these 8 to befriend. That can’t possibly be fair. But it is a start and it is joyful. And getting to know the others will be full of joy too. Further, there are thousands, maybe millions of other plants and animals on this little plot of land. Who will I meet next?

I am guessing this all may sound a little silly. And it is — silly and fun and important; It is one of the ways that I can reclaim my right place in the world, one being among many. I am also guessing that I am not the only one who has a relationship with a tree, or a body of water, or a special stone, or a bird that frequents the feeder. What relationships with the more than human world have you cultivated?