Fantastic Friday: Trees

I happened upon an article about The Armada Tree in Northern Ireland. The Spanish Sweet Chestnut tree supposedly grew from a chestnut that was stored in a sailor’s pocket when he was buried in an unmarked grave after washing up from sea. While not completely proven, the story is a romantic one, and inspiring. That a living monument could mark someone’s passing is encouraging. And in a very real way, it illustrates the idea that we are all connected and exert influences that last beyond our days.

The gnarled tree reminded me of the film The Fountain¸ an artistic piece involving three interwoven timelines related to a search for immortality and an acceptance of death. In the film, a tree—the tree of life—plays an important role as characters reconcile what it means to live and to love and to die.

I remember being a child and talking to my parents about trees. They were trying to explain to me how slowly trees grow. I inquired about planting an apple tree and asked when we would be able to eat the apples from it. The answer was a bit shocking to me—turned out, I would have already moved out of the house by the time the tree grew to fruition. Back then, it was hard for me to fathom that. What did they mean, the apples wouldn’t be ready in time for me? How could that be?

They told me that planting a tree was a symbol of hope. Huh? When you plant a tree, they explained, you were thinking about making your yard (or wherever) a better place a long ways into the future. That meant you were thinking of your children, or their children, or the children of someone you’ve never even met. It meant you were thinking about making the world a better place even long after you were gone. It was the most hopeful thing one human could do for another.

crystal-ankh-200x300In my novel The Man with the Crystal Ankh, the fictional town of Hollow Oak centers around a—well, hollow oak, an ancient oak tree with a partially hollowed trunk that was used generations ago to hide the child of a controversial coupling. Now, generations later, the town’s descendants are still trying to reconcile the events of their past.

The concept was inspired by all of the old trees I’ve encountered in my life, the large one whose girths speak to times long before my grandparents. The “protest tree” at my college, the looming willow at old Gallaher’s Estate, the huge tree providing shade for several play features at my child’s favorite park, the fiery yellow leaves of the tree on the front lawn of my workplace. Touching the bark and feeling the solidity of the tree in the earth, it’s easy to imagine the generations of people who must have passed below the tree’s branches. What stories did they tell? What worries did they shoulder? What hopes did they have for the future?

I imagine the trees watching days without horses, and then the emergence of clip-clopping on dirt roads, and the first roarings of motor cars. Like the Ents in The Lord of the Rings, they would stand firmly, only barely glimpsing at the days of humans. We would seem to pass them as an ether, a miasma of frantic energy that barely took the time to slow down and reflect.

As I plant new trees in my nearly-open yard, I do take the time to reflect. I listen to the chirp of a bird. I feel the warmth on my face as the sun provides a rare spring day in the middle of winter, and I glance at the trees that are already taller than when I planted them. And then I wonder what they may see in their lifetime and what they might inspire in those who follow me on this earth.

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