HOSPITALITY (9/10, Blessing of the Trees)

* * * This old live oak is host to the harmless and amazing Resurrection Fern, so called because in dry conditions, it will shrivel and turn brown, looking entirely dead, but as soon as it rains, it magically comes back to life! * * *

A tree is not solitary organism — far from it! In addition to its connection to other trees through its root system, as described in a previous blog post, it provides homes and shelter to birds and animals, to insects, moss and lichen. It “lives intimately” with all kinds of other creatures and living things.

There are many mutually beneficial relationships between trees and other organisms. For example, there are certain fungi which wrap around or penetrate a tree’s roots. The fungus increases the efficiency with which the roots can absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and also protects the tree from harmful organisms. In return, the tree shares sugars with the fungus. This relationship varies between types of trees and fungi, but 85% of all trees are reliant on some kind of symbiotic relationship for growth.

However, not all symbiotic relationships are so mutually beneficial. Some benefit the small hitchhiker, and neither benefit nor harm the host tree. Now we come to illustrations which more closely relate to the idea of hospitality.

how generously trees share

holding out their hands for birds nests

harboring squirrel families

insects that travel their highways

and burrow into their bark

moss and fern and lichen

all find homes

even supplicants seeking blessings

who pause in the cool of their shade

from The Blessing of the Trees
* * * St. Kevin and the blackbird * * *

The Irish have a legend about Kevin of Glendalough, a saint who spent much time in deep meditation in a cell so small that, in order to stretch out his arms in prayer, his forearms would extend through the small windows on each side. One day he emerged from a time of profound prayer to find that a blackbird was building a nest in his upturned palm. Not wishing to disturb the bird, he patiently remained still in this position as the blackbird finished the nest, laid and hatched eggs, and cared for its young. He did not stir until the fledglings left the nest.

What a beautiful picture of the calm fortitude and generosity of a tree, and what a contrast to us, who get exasperated waiting in a line that seems to move more slowly than that other one, or having to wait a few seconds for something to load on our devices! What graciousness can be read in a tree’s way of being!

I keep returning to the words of Joyce Kilmer’s immortal poem, Trees, which reads in part:

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

I can just imagine the equanimity of a tree, aware of all the activity going on in its branches, the small dramas of birds and squirrels, the insects traveling the highway of its trunk, burrowing into its thick bark, and the rat-a-tat of the woodpecker seeking those tiny treats. I picture the trees as they were so brilliantly personified by J.R.R. Tolkein as the Ents.

‘Hrum, Hoom,’ murmured the voice,
a deep voice like a very deep woodwind instrument.
‘Very odd indeed! Do not be hasty, that is my motto.’

-Treebeard the Ent, The Two Towers, second book of Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

Trees definitely live slower than we do, but I imagine them infinitely more in tune with their immediate environment and with a heart of indulgent benevolence towards their fellow creatures, including humans who enjoy their shade, climb their branches, and respectfully appreciate what they have to teach us.

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

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