What’s a Druid without trees? For that matter, what’s a world without trees? Yet most of us take trees for granted. When I was teaching honors and Advanced Placement English to gifted high school students, I gave the same assignment at the beginning of each school year. Go out tonight, I would instruct them, and hug a tree; then write about your experience.
My students were, of course, incredulous. This woman is nuts. Hug a tree? What’s that have to do with learning English? But being the obedient little honors students that they were, everyone always completed her assignment.
The next day each student would read his journal entries aloud. Some were incredibly funny (usually written by self-conscious, he-man, athletic types who reported having crept about in the wee hours of the morning so as not to actually be SEEN doing this dirty deed). But ALWAYS, without exception, the students were amazed at what they felt. While they were aware that trees are alive, their awareness rested at some abstract intellectual level. Once they touched the living thing in its essence, they understood the meaning of the word „alive“ in all its nuances.
For most of us, awareness is a touch (or a hug, if you will) away. I know of no other interaction that so immediately and intensely renders us aware of the life around us. So go hug a tree and write about your experience. Once you have completed the exercise, repeat it with another kind of tree. Was there a difference? In Charleston, we have a thousand-year old live oak which natives call „Angel Oak.“ The breadth and sheer power of this tree (protected in a city park) is incomparable. Each time I have visited and sat at its base, my back against its broad trunk, my feet on the humped stool of an exposed root, I am given what I call my „affirmations“ (little signs that reaffirm for me the magic of the universe and my part in it). Sometimes it comes in the form of a visiting hawk; sometimes a horde of butterflies; sometimes I find unique feathers at its base. It provides acorns, moss, and ferns for my spellwork and, of course, a deep sense of peace. I always leave three shiny copper pennies in its hollows in return. The crepe myrtles that adorn the city streets, on the other hand, are quieter trees. They stand like shy and beautiful women as I stroke their smooth, shiny, twisted trunks. Willows are sad trees whose song is a wistful whish-h-h in the breeze. Birches emote a sense of freshness and possibility. The tree has long been symbolic of life, but I also like to draw the analogy of the tree to the human brain.
Everything in the universe exists in macrocosmic and microcosmic forms. The solar system is mirrored by the atom, a factory by a colony of ants. So, too, are the branching dendrites of our brains which spread from each neuron like the branches of a tree. Dendrites pass information quickly from one neuron to the next, processing at an amazing rate. The better care one takes of a tree, the more branches it produces. The more one uses her brain, the more dendrites are produced. The more dendrites one possesses, the better one’s potential for intellectual accomplishment. When Albert Einstein died and left his brain to be analyzed, the only real difference between it and the brains of other humans was in the amazing amount of dendrites Einstein possessed. Science has told us what the trees have always known, that proper use strengthens and enhances.