Archive for 22 October 2011

What is it about trees?

That presence in forest, grove or single tree is something kindred to me, so I walk under the branches, and touch the bark and speak with them, and listen.  Their slow gestures move in the air above me.  And the silence rings in my hearing.  Druids and trees — that was something I understood right away.  In childhood my closest friends were trees.  What is it about them?

The German poet Rilke captures a piece of it in one of his Sonnets to Orpheus:

A tree ascended there.  Oh pure transcendence!
Oh Orpheus sings!  Oh tall tree in the ear!
And all things hushed.  Yet even in that silence
a new beginning, beckoning, change appeared.

Creatures of stillness crowded from the bright
unbound forest, out of their lairs and nests;
and it was not from any dullness, not
from fear, that they were so quiet in themselves,

but from just listening.  Bellow, roar, shriek
seemed small inside their hearts.  And where there had been
at most a makeshift hut to receive the music,
a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind —
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.

Trees get me to go “quiet in myself,” so that silence is not absence of speech, but a positive space that allows the stillness to unfold and open up and include the listener in it.  From it rises the “tall tree in the ear.”

Orpheus, the “you” of the last line, is a musician, a listener who hears the space between notes. He knows sound and silence blend to make possible the third thing of music. Wisdom speech, as opposed to chat and gossip, possesses that same character, emerging out of the silence which makes it possible, and bearing the imprint of its quality.

Such communion is a powerful tool. The rough “shelters” we construct out of our animal longings point us toward knowing these things, toward recognizing and gathering in the temple we can find “inside our hearing.”

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