I’ve always seen trees as old, wise philosophers. It is in their root system where you can best observe this: it is there, where you see the tree’s lifelong struggle for survival: in the twists, the turns, the knots, the knuckles that sometimes grow over each other, as the tree desperately searches for the best path towards water. As it seeks the safety of the earth, sinking its roots under the ground to safely anchor itself. It is the roots, out of all the parts of the tree, which have the toughest job.
Sometimes I hold on to the woody, tired roots and the memory of my grandfather appears as I remember holding on to his weak, arthritic hand. Weak, but stealthily holding on to life with all that it had, despite all the marks: lumps, scratches, moles and miscolorations. As it ages, our skin becomes multicoloured and translucent, before we eventually become translucent angels. Trees also become angels, adding halo after halo onto their tree rings each year, in preparation for their final flight.
Trees are philosophers because they tell the story of patience and persistence. Methuselah, a bristlecone pine tree in California’s White Mountain, is the oldest tree known to humans: 4,700 years old. Sometimes I struggle to imagine the story of a tiny seedling eventually turning into a wise tree over tens, sometimes hundreds, in this case thousands of years. Trees may take a while to grow, but they are consistent: they never give up, never miss a springtime. Good things take time. Fully content with their surroundings, trees have no curiosity, no need to explore. They don’t crave what they don’t have, they’re not jealous of what may lie on the other side of the hill. Grateful for any water or sunlight that comes with the particular position where destiny has placed them, they make the best of what they have. In contrast to the chattering monkeys and birds that live in them, all trees take an oath of silence the moment they are born. They swear to never say a word, but to engage in lifelong meditation.
Just because trees never talk it doesn’t mean they don’t observe. It doesn’t mean they have no wisdom.
Trees, like birds, are nature’s exercise in defying gravity. As the roots disappear into the depths of the earth, the trunk reaches for the sky. When it has reached far enough, it begins to construct its own vision of heaven: a canopy. In places like the Amazon the tree canopy is so tall, so vast, that it forms part of the weather system. Moisture escaping from the leaves forms clouds, which turn into rain. It is why we call it the Cloud Forest. It waters itself. Most of the rain in the Amazon is produced this way, by the trees themselves, recycling water back to their roots. They generously give back 100% of the water that they receive. Without the trees much of the Amazon basin would be a desert, and of course, there would be no Amazon river either. We are seeing this happen already year by year, as more trees are removed and humidity gradually decreases. One day the trees won’t be able to grow. And we will have no one to remind us how to be grateful, patient, generous.