I call them Spirit Trees. And whether they’re rooted in the wilderness or in a run-down part of town, I am fortified and soothed by just knowing that they are there.
Everyone, it seems, loves trees. We plant them, photograph them and seek shade under them. The quality of our open spaces and urban parks are measured and enhanced by the presence of trees. Our children take delight in climbing their branches or hanging from their limbs. And who among us of any age has not enjoyed a chance to swing from a tree with either a rope or while sitting in a swing and looking up through the branches?
Decades ago, during a time in my life when I had been struggling with the rigidity of mainstream faith traditions, I experienced something I had never felt before while leaning against a sprawling old maple tree. Suddenly I felt a warm, steady surge coursing through my entire body. It lasted less than a minute but it felt like hours. It was powerful, private and I knew from someplace within me that what I had just received was without question, deeply spiritual and it came from the very tree I was “visiting.”
Over time I discovered that not all trees would have that same impact on me like that first experience, but if I paid attention, many actually did and sometimes it occurred in unexpected places. These silent, towering sentinels I have come to look for while traveling near and far; I call them Spirit Trees. And whether they’re rooted in the wilderness or in a run-down part of town, I am fortified and soothed by just knowing that they are there. For me, this feeling, a gentle state of being, rises to the highest level of worship. All that is required of me is to be present, to be grateful, to say thank you with a touch or a whispered prayer on my breath.
Having received this gift, a blessing really, obliges me to also share this joy with others whenever possible. In both ministry and secular settings I have taken every opportunity to encourage others, as individuals or in groups of different ages, to wait, reflect and experience the spiritual strength of trees for themselves. Sometimes we do so in total silence and other times we intentionally locate a retreat workshop, discussion, or guided imagery session under the canopy of tree limbs and leaves.
These days even though I’m nestled peacefully within a wonderful faith community where worship is deep and meaningful, I seek still the church of canopies and roots, in trees standing silent and casting their strength and Spirit. It makes me smile to know that all I have to do is go looking, expecting, and wait.
We invite you to share a story about yourself or another person, reflecting on the question: “How has gratefulness shifted a moment, an experience, or a lifetime?”
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So glad I followed the path to find your story… lovely. I have felt that power and presence from a tree…. thank you for articulating it so well.
My favorite thing is to connect to my neighborhood trees on my walks. I connect to them and send them thanks and love and light. Trees do so much for us ❤️ Givers of life and bringers of beauty ?
This is so true. Your note makes me think about the macro and micro ways of being present to trees, and they to us as well. Sometimes I feel a sense of blessing just looking at the sweeping panorama of an entire tree from afar and watch it swaying and chatting with the breezes. Other times I find myself sitting close to a tree, perhaps on a stone wall or on the ground, just looking into a small area of a tree’s bark and branches, being aware of the textures, colors and physical certainty of this living wonder. It’s always hard to explain, but I come away knowing and feeling within, lighter and fortified. – Kevin
.Kevin, I’m both surprised and grateful for your post.
Surprised: reading gratefulness.org I have often observed this special attitude towards nature, and above all, for trees. Your post is like a “paradigms” and I also remember a poem by Francine. I admit I have not your mindset. I live in a so built up area, but the real problem is the humanistic background we have in Italy, man- centered. Also if we honor Saint Francis of Assisi we don’t take Nature as a gift.
Grateful: thank you all because you help me growing in a more conscious love for nature.
More than lots of critical articles.
And please, have patience for my linguistic style! 🙂
I hear you that so much of our towns and especially cities are filled with man-made structures and creations, all of which are supposed to serve us as people. Yet I also recall fondly several times over the years when I was leading groups of young people on retreat in urban areas and our group was naturally drawn to be near, sit beneath or climb above (whenever possible) the scraggiest of trees, they, having been wedged between concrete structures, and yet they survived.
My sense too is that trees are given to us to enjoy in many ways, but never to own as in a gift received to do with as one pleases. You make an important distinction on that point, which I agree with totally, but I suppose there are some who would think otherwise.
Thank you for mentioning and invoking the name of Saint Francis of Assisi also. My little statue of him is in our backyard, also under a small ornamental tree. Unfortunately, the poor little guy toppled over in our last snowstorm and is temporarily frozen under snow and ice! I am not really sure what that means other than issuing an apology to my Catholic friends. But I’m waiting for the first thaw so that I can get Saint Francis upright again. Perhaps there’s another story in that, too. My very best to you. – Kevin Lee
Yes Kevin,….I mean just what you’re saying, nature is given to us to enjoy.
Thanks, so much! And don’t worry…S. Francis is a surprise!
I loved your post. My sister, a Miksang teacher, sent it on to me after I posted about a lovely new tree I met recently while on a somewhat melancholic walk around my neighborhood. I identify as Quaker myself, and I often take solace in quiet and under trees. My previous “best tree” friend was a weeping willow, who embraced me beneath her long fronds, also near my home. Thank you for sharing your experience with these beautiful caretakers.
The pleasure has been all mine, actually! I have taken the Level One Miksang course, and waiting for the next level to be offered somewhere in the eastern part of the US. Over the years when I’ve taught First Day School at my Quaker Meeting or when leading a retreat for young Quakers, and when the weather allowed, I especially enjoyed taking the whole group outside under a nearby tree. The energy from the tree always made the class go so much better! For sure, these trees are taking care of us in so many ways!
Kevin, thank you for this. I have had such a similar experience that reading your story just brought tears. Quite a number of years ago, I was going thru a painful divorce — I was depressed, frightened, feeling so alone. At the time I was taking botany classes – our instructor would take us into the ‘field’ to identify plants and learn the ecosystems that supported particular communities of species. When he brought us to a forested area …. I felt an immediate peacefulness …
I returned to that same space time and time again. It was a forest of pines … and their scent, majesty and towering limbs brought immediate comfort … I’d take a long walk under those trees — beginning the journey feeling distraught, and yet emerging from walk feeling embraced, refreshed, filled with hope, and with a sense of peace that things would all work out.
When things finally did settle, I’d still return to those trees in gratitude, and have dedicated my life and career to teaching about our natural world and yes — planting trees …
Greetings, there truly is something majestic yet understated about towering pine trees! And now you’re giving back to them, in spades, as an educator and a preservationist as a planter of trees! I love the idea that we can plant trees knowing that they will, hopefully, outlive us all.
Kevin, from Santiago, Chile… Where the land ends in the southern hemisphere… Thanks for your reflections. Unfortunately I’ve been through an emotional hard time and I’ve been told to embrace a nice Palm tree that is in my garden to get its strength. Must confess I haven’t done it yet, maybe I should.
Kevin I live in a house in Philippines with a big yard and 3 tall old coconut palms that scare me. They are loaded with big heavy coconuts.. I intend to harvest them all next month so I can walk safely beneath them. The trees won’t mind. My mango and avocado trees have given permission for the coconuts to be climbed and whacked. Both jack-fruit trees are silent on the matter, so I will ask them again. The banana trees are asking for more attention but they must wait until I get those dangerous coconuts. Be careful about your palm if it has coconuts. If you park there, coconuts may smash your windshield, and anything else passing below.
Greetings Treetalker, I love your piece! The biggest thing that falls from trees in my area are acorns from oak trees. So not too risky. Although I once was riding my bike down a rural stretch of road through a stand of big old oak trees. Suddenly the wind picked up and it was literally raining acorns….so much so that they were bouncing off of my bike helmet and making a racket! My best to you with the harvesting!
Hello friend, I am sorry to hear that things have been rough lately for you…hopefully better times will come soon, perhaps as the season will too. The good news is that your palm tree in your garden will be there when you’re ready. But perhaps some of us who have read this story and check in with this site will reach over to their/our “spirit tree,” wherever they are, and send you a little prayer of comfort and healing as well. We never know how the roots of things connect, no matter how far apart. Once daylight arrives, I’ll have a talk with one of favorite trees on your behalf. Keep listening, and do take care. –Kevin Lee
Kevin, thanks so much. I ‘m sure your talk with your favourite trees will bring me the peace I long for. Thanks so so much!
Beautiful. I enjoyed reading your story.
I really love search for new leaves in the middle of my garden. I believe the nature talk to us and inspire us with simplicity.
Thank you, Cintia. I live in New England, and in another month the trees will start to have little tight buds just emerging. sometimes you have to look close to see them, but by the first warmer day In March they’ll be hints of green on the higher branches, a sure sign of right order in the world…at least in the world of nature! – Kevin
it’s a wonderful world 🙂
I’m looking at the trees out of my bedroom window right now and they are filled with hope. It’s the 9th day of February, I live in Iowa and it snowed last night. Yet there are robins in the tree, colorful, singing robins. They are letting me know that Spring is not far off. Each day has a little more light at the end of the work day, a few more robins will come, those same trees will soon have buds and the particular one I’m looking at will have beautiful pink flowers. Spirit trees are out there, you just have to stop long enough to let them reach out to you.
Hi Jane…love your comment, “stop long enough to let them reach out to you.” So, so true! Thank you. – Kevin
Kevin.. I loved reading your story about ‘Spirit Trees’. I LOVEnd feel very drawn to particular trees. I would like to share a very special Tree for you to visit (if you haven’t already) it’s the Angel Oak Tree in South Carolina. I feel as if I’m walking on Sacred Ground there. Silence fills me! Followed by a deep sense of love and reverence. A link to her site is: http://www.AngelOakTree.org I too maintain a photography blog with many photographs of trees. If you care to visit, it is http://www.NCTreesPhotography.com thank you again for sharing your experience and love.
Hello Anita, thank you for your comments here. I checked out your site too…..fantastic images! I also took a look at the Angel Tree too, which I have heard about before but years ago now. Like your “bucket List” category on your site, I will add visiting the Angel Tree to my own bucket list hopefully sometime in the future. Wishing you peace and good health. And again, thank you. – Kevin