The Trees Lean In

The trees lean in, listening to us; Once hungry for our breath, now breathing in the gluttonous excesses, these vigilant giants provide hope. Oak, poplar, and pine, they don’t need us. We need them.

With sun beneath them and the warmth of the day’s meal fading, they exhale, sustaining us in their quiet contemplation. They see two worlds in motion: those that move in and out of sight each day, and those that grow up alongside them.

Father of the Forest at Big Basin State Park. This past March, while visiting Stanford, a few colleagues and I visited Big Basin State Park. I can easily say this was the highlight of our trip, and a reminder of the grandeur of nature.

Massive redwood tree strechting into the sky

What could we learn the tree outside our window? First, grab a hat, leave your phone on the counter, open the door, and go outside. Find a tall tree with immediate natural surroundings; A park or lawn should do. Stand beyond the shade of the tree, but such that in an hour, the shadow will blanket you. Take off your shoes and socks, and stand barefoot in the lawn. Now watch, feel, listen, and smell.

Leaf and wind partner in a dance; One unseen yet evident in the fluttering of its green partner. The other, here until the autumnal winds coax the dancer free. But today in mid-spring, the young leaf holds fast to its parental support.

The branches, as vessels on an ocean, with sails sprouting forth, rise and fall on the invisible waves of Zephyrus. Bobbing on this ocean, the branches remain anchored, though busy shipping supplies to and from.

The central trunk swaying like a metronome measuring out the rhythm of the day. Reaching towards heaven, it anchors limb and leaf. Beneath it, roots plunge deep, questing for water and nutrients to fuel its photosynthetic growth.

Now listen to the birds and watch as they flutter in amongst the sheltering leaves and branches. Follow their flights in and out. Imagine what thank you the bird must say to the tree: Thank you dear maple for shelter from the hawk above; Thank you beloved hawthorn for refuge from the beating sun; Thank you resplendent magnolia for a place to rest a moment on my journey.

Imagine drinking deep from the wells beneath you, not filling your mouth but drawing up from your toes. Wriggle them into the ground. Do you feel the potential? The cycle of death and rebirth? Do you understand that life will go on even as you expire?

Photographs cannot do justice to the massive size of trees. This redwood has sustained major burn damage, yet continues living.

In the foreground a man clad in rain gear stretching up behind him into the sky a massive redwood tree.

Now, lower yourself and sit on the ground. Press your fingertips into the soil, and keep pressing. Feel the cool, damp earth, alive and eager, rich in nutrients and life.

Look up again at the tree. See how it has changed. Your tree now taller as though years have passed. Close your eyes and listen to the rustling and chirping; You will likely hear automobiles zip by. The world, in motion, surrounds you, dashing past as though a hasty visitor trying to catch the next flight.

Now consider this your place to take root. Never again will you move. Look around. Think about your neighbors. What will you share and learn? Imagine five years from now, still in this place, what would you want to see? What conversations could you have if this was your all?

While our world seems vast, it remains all that we have. Our atmosphere has more carbon dioxide than at any point in human history. Acting as an insulating blanket, carbon dioxide traps heat, ensuring our planet’s temperature rises. Our world, wracked by fever, burns.

To tackle our planetary fever requires action. Consider going vegan. Or planting trees. Wash your clothes less often, and dry them on a drying rack.

Think back to that spot in nature. If you were stuck there, never able to move, what would you do to keep it secure? Can you make tiny changes on earth?

The trees, they watch, patient as they diligently soak up carbon. We need them, and I see them providing guideposts for our way forward.