By Joan Klostermann-Ketels
Frank Lloyd Wright once wrote an essay called The Man Who Plants a Tree, in which he said tree planters will be found by posterity to be â€śfirmer in fiber and finer in sensibility.â€ť In my interaction with people of diverse professional talents who are interested in the health and well-being of the human spirit, I am struck by how many of them are drawn to trees. People universally seem to love them and regard them as a high form of spiritual energy.
Who among us have not found calmness in the way trees respond to a summer breeze, or been thrilled at the fiery show they put on in the glow of autumn? What children do not find comfort beneath a huge oak tree â€“ or rush to climb branches their mothers would think too high and vast? (Never mind that their mothers climbed the same tree when they were young.)
I have always thought trees make their strongest appeals to the human spirit when the foliage falls away from their bones. Novemberâ€™s low light makes long shadows of their skeletons. Faces of bark and fiber that have been hidden behind leaves all summer laugh out loud and bellow their lust for life.
We fragile humans bundle against the chill. Woodland critters fur up and dig in when the wind shifts. But trees paradoxically shed their glorious wardrobes to show off their lithe athleticism. What shapes they reveal! No wonder they can dance like they do! They use their brute strength to grip the earth while rolling with the punches of the wind and rain.
Some older trees shed their final leaf each year. Some crack and bend toward the earth that they will again become. Their dance is slower but just as poignant and transformational. Their weariness and grief are natural, just as the joy and exhilaration of the younger trees shooting up all around them. For all of their youthful exuberance, some of them wonâ€™t live beyond their elders, not having gained enough strength and wisdom in time to survive hungry deer or the next big hail storm.
Every human condition and emotion is reflected in a forest of trees sans the colors of the growing season. Observing people on a city street would be as instructive if only we were as forthcoming about our experiences as trees. Trees show us how to live, how to celebrate, how to bear weight and pain, how to accept, and finally how to die â€“ while maintaining a constant sense of dignity, honor and place.
Trees are the ultimate expression of love and faith. They are consummate storytellers. The only thing they ask in return for the opportunity to confer with them is that we quiet ourselves and slow down enough to see and listen. Given the pace of life in the 21st century, that may require adjustment on our part. But it is a small compromise given the legacy of the tree planter and the sacred information borne by the fruits of that labor.