Standing in the forest, in winter, the bare branches of the oaks and maples, and the undergrowth dogwood, redbud and sassafras, intertwine in contortions and still barely touch each other. The breeze moves the branches in a thousand directions at once, and still the trees do not scrape or bother each other. They dance and swing, bow and bend.
These are living beings, not inanimate things. Aristotle believed all living things had souls, along with the animists of primitive faiths. So our ancestors worshipped the spirits of the trees. They had a glimpse of something true. The life in such wonderful plants outnumbers us by far, and our health and well-being depends on them.
The trunks stretch and crack. With an ear to the wood I hear the sound of stress and relief throughout the organic system. Doing this, Martin Buber claimed that we can have an “I-Thou” experience with a tree, that opens us to the possibility of Thou within and beyond the self and the universe, divine and exquisite. All I know is that the tree is part of me, and I am in the tree.
The power and weakness of the trees become obvious as they move, from top to bottom. I had thought that the trunk stood still, but look at it stretch and bend! The oldest tree stands most rigid, and that becomes its problem, as its core decays and allows water and air, squirrels and birds to take up residence. Yet even it spreads out tender, youthful extremities, to reach the light and make the air that we breathe, to claim its unique place among the living.
Should it be “I cannot see the forest for the trees,” or “I cannot see the trees for the forest?”