When I'm messed up, trees help a lot. Weird but true. As a kid, whenever something ghastly happened in the house, I'd fly out the door and run, run, run until I couldn't breathe anymore; until all the filthy air from whatever argument or brutalization was out of my lungs and I could fill up with something clean. Fresh air. Any other air, period. I grew up in a little farm town: endless fields and sporadic trees were everywhere. I liked the lonely, open spaces empty of humanity, but it was the trees that gave me the most solace. They talk in whispers, trees do, and their voices change depending on the season, the weather and the wind. In times of stress, I like the comfort of green voices like that. They weave songs in their branches, whether rippling with the air at twilight, shifting almost imperceptibly with the dawn breeze, or crackling with ice in winter. They're deliciously moody in the dead of night, all black branches and hidden murmurs. Then, their voices are heavy with an earthy perfume, and I walk like a shadow myself, drawn into all that mystery and darkness. At noon, they're stiff and soldier-like, ramrod straight and reaching for the sun overhead. At such a time, I can almost feel their roots beneath my feet, pushing up toward all those life-giving rays. My own step grows lighter, pulled up by their exuberance and steady strength. Late afternoon becomes a dance of light; all the extremes of sunlight and shadow dapple everything like ripples on a pond. I often stumble as I stare up at such intricate choreography. I love how there's always one leaf twirling in a frantic, happy circle, as if trying to corkscrew itself to freedom.
As a teenager, my son used to yell, "Mom! Stop staring at everything! Just walk!" But it's an impossibility for me. I just have to gape. Throughout the years, trees have been a sort of bastion for me; always there, always rooted in the ground, ancient even as saplings. When I moved to New York, I was surprised at the amount of trees everywhere. Even on street corners, there are often leafy shadows on the sidewalks. When Leland was in rehab, and life was harder than it had ever been, I found solace in a single weeping cherry tree that grew by the facility. Beautiful, with branches like a woman's hair: dressed in glorious rose pink blossoms in the spring, limpid with fresh green in early summer, dancing with gold in the fall, blanketed with her own fallen leaves in winter, when her branches moved like they were underwater. Renewal. I think that's another gift the whole existence of trees means to me. Even in the depth of winter, snow and ice, thaw will always come and green will return. In all the songs of all the trees I've walked beneath during my life, that's always been a promise fulfilled. In the whistle of pine, the macho roar of oaks, the fey whisper of willows, I've always found silent, steady companions everywhere in the world. Even when I lived in a city where trees were few and far between, there was one I used to visit. It stood on a corner by a 7 Eleven, bracketed by steel, trunk painted white to the waist: a lovely, steady, city girl of wood and shadow. I liked to buy a Big Gulp and hover beneath her, watching the world go by with lottery tickets and microwave snacks. Trees are soothing companions when you run into chaos. Grab a snack and cop a squat under one. You'll feel good will seeping into your bones and have not a clue where it came from, so foreign a feeling it'll be. Give it a try. The comfort of trees can blanket your cold soul if you let it. It's just a matter of noticing their existence. They're there for you, in sight, in sound, in mood, in breath.