Living in the desert of Phoenix, AZ taught me a great deal about tenacity and resilience, plus gave me a profound appreciation of trees.
Trees in the desert are amazing in the ways they adapt to the harsh conditions - from micro-leafs to lime green bark. If there were military branches within the tree world, desert trees would likely be the elite forces with their ability to hide, camouflage, defend and make the best of a bad situation.
Now I live in Vermont, where there are more trees than people. The trees here have been fantastic teachers. Unlike the humans cohabiting with them, they seem to know when to prepare of winter in the most glorious of fashions and how long to wait before springing to life after the long, cold winters. They don’t judge one another and will occasionally hold each other up, even re-orientating their growth to continue to live while leaning in.
I am now neighbors with the national forest, hiking to it through my backyard regularly. When I lived in Woodstock, I enjoyed hiking Mt Tom a few blocks from my apartment and just behind a park. As I would go through the park, I often noticed a very large elm tree toward the back of the park, surrounded by apple trees on the park side and elms on the mountain side.
I don’t know why this particular tree caught my attention, as it looked much like the other trees near it. However, the first time I saw it I had to hug it. The tree is on a path through the park, not next to the trail-head, so I had to walk a little out of my way to get to it - which I did almost every time I hiked Mt Tom.
In college I was introduced to the term “treehugger” as a term to describe a person who was into peace, kindness, and the environment - what I would consider a modern hippy. 20 years later, I now find myself a literal tree hugger. The trunk was so large, it was impossible for me to wrap my arms around it. The feeling was almost like hugging my grandfather who had died years before. There was comfort there, an acceptance I can’t fully explain. It felt like “home” - more like the home I had before coming into this body of mine, if that makes any sense.
I didn’t know many people when I first moved to Vermont, so those hugs were comforting to me in a place and time that I felt out of sorts and very alone. That tree had obviously survived for many, many decades (probably longer than I’d been alive). It survived an asphalt path being built over part of its roots, people walking that path, dogs urinating on its trunk, harsh storms, and who knows what else.
If it could survive, I could survive.
I miss hugging that tree. Though I have thousands of trees in my “backyard” of the national forest - and some some I have come to have a unique relationship with, none have taken the place of the Grandfather Tree.
Wendy Rees is a lifestyle strategist, and the Founder of Whole Being Inc. She offers her wisdom through her writing, strategy sessions, coaching-style programs, and has just launched a membership program for people who are looking to dive deeper into living wholly.