To be perfectly clear, this is a tree appreciation post. I’m glad we’re on the same page now.
Trees have played an unusually large role in my life over the last 3 months. I’ve been pruning them, climbing them, walking around them, napping in them, reading about them, and now writing about them. The more I learn about trees and the more time time I spend immersed in them, the more I come to realize how similar they are to humans.
Although trees are generally understood to be lifeless, static objects that are important only in the way humans decide to use them, they are extremely dynamic and multifaceted organisms. Trees can function as homes for other animals, insects, and fungi. Trees are the literal lungs of our planet. Trees are family members, witnesses to history, communicators, they are living organisms that experience consciousness (even if not in the same way as humans).
The other day some friends and I drove to one of the largest redwood groves in the world. We walked around for a while, marveling at the surreal size of these massive plants. Our necks began to hurt after craning up at the canopy during most of the walk. Being reduced to the size of ants when compared to the trees and being surrounded by the energy of the ancient forest offered really interesting perspectives on the “big picture” of the passage of time. Just from staring at these trees, we began to wonder how old they were, how long they’d be there, which ones we’d outlive and which ones would outlive us. Looking at one particularly massive tree, I kept thinking about what was happening in the world at the time it first sprouted, some 1,500 years ago. I wondered what history that tree had bore witness to, and if there had been some long since deceased person staring at that tree as a sapling, wondering how far into the future it might grow.
Trees have a lot of lessons to teach us in terms of how to live life. As humans, we’re generally told that we should do whatever it is that we do as fast as we possibly can, but the lifestyle of trees vehemently refutes this assertion. Trees grow towards the sun at their own slow, steady creep, unconcerned with deadlines or due dates.
This constant approach to growth reminded me of a Goethe quote that opens Annie Dillard’s (one of the best naturalist writers of the past century) “The Writing Life”: “Do not hurry, do not rest”. This quote perfectly applies to the life of trees. Even the fastest growing trees move at a pace so slow that it is totally imperceptible to the human eye. But however slow a tree’s growth may be, it never stop growing. They are constantly in a state of growth, even if in extremely small amounts and speeds. In fact, trees that grow slower tend to outlive trees that grow quickly. The unstable foundations of the faster growing trees can topple over under the weight of their own trunk. Those trees were in a hurry, so they reached their ends much faster than their slow moving counterparts.
I could include several more thought-provoking quotes about slowing down the passage of time, but instead I ask that you go outside, find as many trees as you can, sit down beside them, and try to move as slowly as they do.