I have always loved trees: the prehistoric ginkgo, the Angel Oak, the sweet Southern magnolia, groves of olive trees and the elegant weeping willow, to just name a few. I fell in love with my husband hiking Sewanee’s famous Perimeter trail beneath a fortress of pine trees. For my fortieth birthday, David gifted me with a pair of apple, pear, plum and cherry trees. The cover illustration for my first book, Alma Gloria and the Olive Tree, sums up my evergreen devotion perfectly with a tree carved with a heart at its center. I guess you could say I am a “tree hugger.”
Trees symbolize hope for me. I admire how they appear to take the long view of life. Serene instead of reactive, trees focus on the things that matter. They ground themselves deep in an intricate root system, point themselves in the direction of the sun, practice resilience in the face of life’s changing seasons and keep a stoic eye on the kind of legacy they are leaving. In the stillness of the forest, you get the feeling that trees have figured out the secret: It’s love that makes this planet turn.
I often speak to God beneath their evergreen wings because I have a sense they have God’s ear. Now you might be saying to yourself, “Farrell has gone off the deep end anthropomorphizing trees.” But what if I told you that trees have feelings and a capacity to show love? The talking Ents in the Lord of the Rings and Shell Silverstein’s, The Giving Tree might actually be more real than fiction. I have just finished reading Peter Wohlleben’s stunning New York Times bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees, and not only do trees smell and taste, but they talk to each other! Trees have families and a circle of friends. They safe-keep memories and make plans for the future. But more importantly, trees take care of one another. If one tree is ill, all the surrounding trees will send sugar and nourishment to revive the tree. Trees see to the orphans, widows, elderly, even help bury their own. They register pain. If an invader such as an insect or bird comes into the area, the trees immediately send out alerts to warn the other trees to take protection. Trees intuitively know that they cannot survive on their own and happily take part in the symbiotic community of the forest. In Wohlleben’s twenty years of research, he found that trees exercise compassion, mercy and love for one another. There are circumstances where arbor partners are so tightly connected at the root that they die together. More profound, trees are willing to sacrifice their own needs, even die, for the good of another. Isn’t that the ultimate definition of love?
Trees just may a have heart at their center after all!
I’ll never forget my second grade teacher reading The Giving Tree and being moved by the love and sacrifice of the tree for the boy. First, the tree invited the boy to swing in her branches and eat of her fruit. As the boy grew older, she allowed him to take and take until all that remained of her was a stump. The reason this story touched me at seven years old and still today is because deep down I know I’m here because someone needs my love. As Jesus said, we only gain our life when we are willing to give it away for another. Or said in another way, the value of our life in the forest (and the measure of our joy and soul’s worth) is determined by our willingness to step beyond ourselves for the love of another.
There is a blueprint of love in nature, a gorgeous divine system that extends itself out across all of creation. It operates on love. God’s intention, whether in the creation of human beings, lions, birds, ants or trees, was that we would see to one another. It’s genius really, Human being and saplings alike, are wired for compassion. The archetype “forest” (marriage, family, community, church, world) is only as strong as the selfless heart of every tree living within it. Forest harmony or “kingdom living” here on earth is the plan if love is the choice.
If you are struggling to answer the questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose? Go hug a tree. They are sage teachers. Thanks to Wohlleben, trees are fulfilling their destiny in the biome of the forest: listening, protecting, showing kindness, inspiring, living in faith and loving every tree for whom they share life with. If we do nothing else in our short span of a life, let it be said that we over-comunicated love with those who crossed roots with us. At the end, hopefully they’ll be nothing left us but a glorious stump, love spent.
Live in Hope,