I have always loved trees. I don’t mean “trees-are-pretty-cool” kind of love. I mean, I truly love them. As I mentioned in my first blog, I have been an unabashed tree-hugger since I was a wee sapling. Growing up in NJ, the trees in my yard all had names and, from my perspective, very distinct personalities. George, the young maple, although not grand in stature, made up for it with his wise and calming presence. But George could get wild and crazy too. Every Spring, George would produce fruit—what we kids in the neighborhood referred to as “polynoses.” During that time of year, dozens of kids in my neighborhood would open the “wings” of the polynoses and affix them to their own noses. Our house was at the end of a cul-de-sac and George lived near the curb. I felt rather magnanimous, “letting” my friends take George’s polynoses. It didn’t matter to me that these plentiful helicopter seeds had fallen onto our public street. They still belonged to George and it was my duty to remind people of that. Ah, the memories. Trees have factored into so many of my memories.
I spent my summers on the North Fork of Long Island. My Nana and Pop Pop’s house had several large trees in the backyard. Many an evening I would lie down in one of the comfy lawn chairs and look up at the trees. The breeze would blow through the leaves—a sound I still love today. My Dad and Pop Pop stood by the grill, drinking their cocktails and talking. I gripped my own cocktail—my Pop Pop’s infamous Shirley Temple. I could hear my Nana and her sister, my Great-Aunt Minnie, talking through the kitchen windows. The sounds of all their voices mixed together, coupled with the whispering of my tree friends would lull me into a peaceful state. I stared up at the beautiful green with hints of blue peeking through. It was pure bliss and I felt safe. There is something so wonderful about being surrounded by people who love you—even when their focus isn’t on you at that moment. My Pop Pop died when I was very little, but for many years afterwards I would lie in one of those chairs and look up and listen. My tree friends would whisper the old stories and the memories would come flooding back.
My Mom’s parents had a cottage on East Pond in Maine. Vacations in Maine were very different from those in Long Island, but equally special. My Grandma and Grandpa were true nature lovers and they could name every bird, fish and mammal that crossed our path. The cottage was rustic with (gasp!) no television. We slept in sleeping bags on cots and had to take quick, cold showers. But no matter, I loved it. The call of the loons and the sound of small waves gently knocking the fishing boat into the dock felt like home. The sweet aroma of pine needles blanketing the property permeated every room. I couldn’t get enough of it. In fact, my Grandma gave me a little pillow filled with pine needles so that I could take a little Maine back home with me. Maine also had something that I didn’t see when I lived in NJ—birch trees. Birch trees, with their white, paper thin bark, looked like something out of a painting or a fairytale. It was always exciting to spot the first Birch tree as we headed North to the cabin. “Grandpa! Look—there’s one!” I would yell from the back seat of the old station wagon. He and Grandma would laugh. It still makes me smile to think about that.
For a short time in the early 80s, my Dad lived in NYC. My sister and I spent a handful of school vacations there. Although I love visiting NYC now, back when I was in Middle School, everything about it scared me. There were so many people and so many sirens. In addition, I couldn’t understand how my Dad could be “ok” living in a place with no trees. He would say “We’re only a few blocks from Central Park. There are plenty of trees.” Sometimes I would walk with him to the store. One day, as we walked several blocks, I saw a little tree growing out of the pavement (at least that’s how I remember it). I remember feeling bad for the poor little tree. I decided it was a “he” and was devastated that “he” didn’t have any friends. I was sure that this little tree must be lonely. My Dad was sure I was being a pain in the ass. To his credit, he did grumble a quick “I’m sure the tree is fine.” I wasn’t so sure and silently asked God to protect my new friend. Every day for the length of my April vacation, any time I passed the little tree, I would stop and give its skinny trunk a little squeeze. I don’t know for sure if that gave the tree any comfort, but it sure made me feel better.
As I entered high school and later college, my love of trees was put on the back burner. Suffice it to say I wouldn’t have been comfortable sharing tree stories at the pep rally. I still loved trees, but it would have been social suicide to bring that up. I was already in the drama club, which I loved, but that’s all I could handle defending at that time. At the close of my Senior year of high school I started dating a guy who became my first serious boyfriend (and later my husband and then, much later, my ex-husband). It was then that trees came back into my life. Like any new young love, I remember it being all-consuming. I was 18, but a young 18—naive and introverted. We used to take walks on wooded trails near his house. I had butterflies and blisters. Jelly shoes were all the rage and I refused to sacrifice fashion for comfort.
After a few weeks (which felt like months in teen years), we went on one of our usual walks, but this time he pulled out a pocket knife and started to carve our initials into a tree. Part of me was so excited. I’d always dreamed of a moment like this (although in the dream it was Michael Jackson doing the carving). The other part of me was screaming “Don’t hurt the tree!!!” Apparently, I didn’t scream that in my head because he whipped his head around, startled. “What’s wrong?” I flushed—afraid that I ruined this perfect moment, but also afraid to share why I had this outburst. “Um nothing…” was all I could muster. He looked embarrassed and put the pocket knife back in his pocket. We walked in silence the rest of the way back to the car. Somewhere there is a tree in Massachusetts with “WC +” carved into its bark. I’ve often wondered what passers by have thought when they saw it. I imagine them saying things like “Who did this? Why didn’t they finish? Was he or she having and existential crisis?” Only the tree and I know the truth.
Fast-forward to 2018 and my love of trees is front and center. Each time I go on vacation, I hug at least one tree. Poor Deb usually gets stuck taking a picture of me awkwardly hugging a tree in whatever location we’re lucky enough to be in. Some of the most memorable trees were in the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon and the Giant Redwoods at Muir Woods in Northern California. Muir Woods was an especially sacred space. It’s truly a church made from nature. Never have I felt so close to God. As I put my hand on one of these majestic trees, the energy was indescribable. It was like a slow humming, rising up from the Earth and through my hand. It felt like energy mixed with love. I was incredibly grateful to be in the presence of this 2000+ year-old life form and it somehow underscored my belief that everything is connected. It also reminded me of what I had known so clearly as a child: the trees want to be loved. And maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky, they love us back.