Lately I’ve spent a lot of time listening to a tree. You might blame it on age. Or insanity.
But I’ve always felt a kinship with nature that is as real and as binding as anything I feel for flesh and blood.
Maybe you do, too. Maybe we are all born with a hunger to feel sun on our face and wind in our hair and dirt beneath our toes.
It’s not that we love Nature more than we love people. But we believe we’re all in this boat together, all of Creation. We’re all part of the family of God.
Sometimes I like to be with people. And sometimes I like to be alone. But once in a while, I just like to hang out with a tree.
In the Carolinas, where I grew up, there were more trees than people. Or so it seemed to me.
Mountains grew thick with evergreens and were speckled with hardwoods that turned red and gold in fall. Valleys were quilted with acres of orchards that bloomed in spring to fill the air with a hailstorm of petals and a heavenly fragrance of apples and peaches and pears.
As a child, two trees were my favorites. The first was a tall hemlock that stood watch over my grandparents’ farm. Its long branches reached to the ground to form a giant umbrella under which I could hide for hours, sheltered from any storm.
My other favorite was an apple tree that grew in a cow pasture beside a railroad track next to the house where I lived with my mother, my stepfather and two brothers. It was a small house, noisy, and at times, unbearable.
Climbing that tree was like going on vacation. Not exactly Disneyland, but close. I’d perch on a branch, swaying in the wind, tossing apples at cows and waiting for a train. When the engine roared by, I’d pump my arm and the engineer would blow the whistle just for me.
But mostly what I did in those trees was just be still and listen. To the sigh of wind. The rustle of branches. The song of birds. The rumble of thunder. And, yes, the mooing of cows.
Trees like to talk. If we give them a chance, they’ll tell us things we need to know: That the world is a wondrous place waiting to be discovered and enjoyed; that there is shelter in every storm; that everything on the Earth is part of God’s family; and most of all, we are loved.
I learned those things from many sources — family and friends and life. But in some ways, I learned them by being still and listening to a tree.
My next favorite tree was a beckoning oak that wrapped its branches around the house where I raised my children. I helped the kids climb it when they were small and have since done the same for their kids. I loved that tree, and listened to it closely for almost 50 years.
Months ago, as I sat in an upstairs bedroom rubbing Flexall on my knees, I could swear I heard the oak whisper, “It’s time for you to move on.”
For one sobering moment, I thought it meant that I was dying. Imagine my relief to realize it only meant that my knees were tired of the stairs.
So we sold that house and moved to a one-level place in a nearby valley. It was hard to leave the old place and the oak. I’m hoping the new owners and their children (and maybe their grandkids someday) will love it and listen to it just as we did.
My new favorite tree is a flowering plum that welcomed us with a profusion of blooms the day we moved in. It’s a lot younger than my other favorite trees, but it likes to talk. I listen closely as the wind rattles its limbs and rustles its leaves.
It tells me things I need to remember, things I taught my children and hope to teach my grandchildren: That the world is a wondrous place waiting to be discovered and enjoyed; that there is shelter in every storm; that everything on the Earth is part of God’s family; and most of all, we are loved.
Listen. Can you hear it?
(Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, Calif. 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.)