Introduction (2/10, Blessing of the Trees)

I’ve always had an affinity with trees. In my grandmother’s large yard in East Texas where I grew up were huge, old trees dripping Spanish moss and impossibly tall loblolly pines whose trunks went stories-high before the long-needled pine branches ever appeared in the distance. There was also a magnolia with its oval, glossy, dark green leaves and white, waxy blossoms the size of soup bowls. But the favorite tree in our yard–at least for me and my brothers and sisters–was a middle-sized Chinese Tallow, which we simply called the Climbing Tree, as in: “I’ll meet you in the Climbing Tree after supper.” It had branches that sprouted on alternate sides of the trunk, so that we could scurry up as nimbly as monkeys, which we sometimes pretended to be. From up in this tree, we could see over the roof of our house and down into the backyards of our neighbors, including the swimming pool of our “rich” neighbors two doors down. Each of us had our own favorite perches, where we would straddle a branch, lean against the trunk, swing our skinny legs and talk. Or pelt each other with the hard, inedible berries that grew on the tree in the late summer and fall. Or pretend to be pirates. In this game, we would send the youngest sibling to climb up to “the crow’s nest” in the highest and flimsiest branches to “look out” for enemy ships. It was a test of my poor younger sister’s bravery and common sense, and I can report with relief that she never suffered any disasters despite our foolhardy goading.

I also went to the tree alone. In a family of nine (three adults and six children), I often craved solitude, to get away from the constant noise and uproar and be left alone with my thoughts. I appreciated the change of perspective up there in the breeze, looking down on the world. And it also provided the only escape, sometimes, from my grandmother’s incessant demands for help with some new household chore: scrubbing mildew off the brick terrace, washing windows, or polishing silver. When I heard her calling my name, I would climb as high into the tree as I dared, and would peer down as she circled behind the garage, looking for me. I held my breath and tried to make myself as small as possible. My grandmother was not an easy woman to outsmart, but that was one small victory that I occasionally won, because she never learned to look up.

*** my daughter and friends enjoying a different climbing tree ***

As an adult, I came to appreciate the beauty of trees, how photogenic a stately oak spreading its limbs across a green lawn can be, the white trunks of a stand of aspen with their golden leaves ablaze in the morning sun, or the bare, twisted skeleton of gnarled mesquite outlined on a hill. It’s more than that, though. Trees are so much more like people than other plants: so individual and distinct, with a lifespan not so unlike our own (some much longer, of course, but not all). You can get to know a tree and interact with it in so many ways: sit in its shade in the summer, seek shelter from the rain, listen to the whisper of the wind in its branches, eat its fruit or nuts, rake its leaves. Trees can become like friends.

But in my poem, “The Blessing of the Trees,” I went with an open heart on a contemplative walk in the woods to see what the trees had to teach me. Turns out, they had plenty to say. In the next several posts, I’d like to use the poem as a jumping off point for the list of eight blessings in the poem: strength, deep roots, connection, responsiveness, persistence, growth, hospitality, and playfulness.

Next post: STRENGTH (3/10, Blessing of the Trees)

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