Somewhere in a forest there is a tree, majestic, towering, ancient and solid. Its canopy etched into the blue sky, protecting, shading and sheltering, its branches nesting places, its leaves continually offered to the floor of the forest.
Recently, I stood before such a tree. It was a humbling moment.
Awestruck, and pondering, ‘How does one approach a tree?’, I could not tell if I was thinking, or the tree was thinking me. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
The tree, named Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, stands in the far north of New Zealand. A sign at its base proclaims, “Tane Mahuta stands 51.8 metres tall, is 18.5 metres round and is over 2,000 years old.”
This silent sentinel is surrounded by a forest of Kauri, Rimu, and Kowhai; the air is musty, moist and earthy, redolent with an ancient atavistic presence. The atmosphere is hushed, cathedral-like, occasionally pierced by birdcalls shrill, sweet and sharp.
How does one approach such a tree?
At times it seems strange to me that I am a part of Nature. A citified lifestyle conspires to have me apart from Nature: more traffic than tree.
Time in Nature is a rare gift. I yearn for union with the deep intelligence at the heart of life, which is so obvious in Nature. But it ain’t easy. Life is too often dominated by the need to look good, pay bills and go nowhere; spiritual yearnings all too often an inconvenient accessory.
Yet life is fuelled by the presence of an intelligence deeper than book learning and schooling. How do I balance this with a worldly existence?
Standing before the Lord of the Forest, I am at a loss. “How do I approach you?’’
Nature leaves clues
I sit, drinking in the majesty, power and presence, marvelling at its silent bearing, and all the while feeling a quiet calm growing within, a soft, silky peace gently smoothing the sharpness of my thoughts.
My mind settles, refreshed. New thoughts arise within.
A form 2000 years in the making stands before me, accompanied by my inner commentary, “Christ, that is a long time. Men and women of power and passion have walked the stage of history, great wars have been won and lost, the world ravaged by disease; plague and famine decorate the annals of history. Yet, time has not visited this place. History has not walked through this forest, its footprint missed this place. A different air is breathed here”.
An ancient breeze blows though my bones, disturbing. The silence screams in its wise and simple way. Implacable Nature, unsettles, beckoning a deeper enquiry.
Can I listen? Am I capable?
How do I approach such a tree?
I watch others for a clue, observing, as swarm after swarm of tourists descend upon this sacred sentinel.
A cloud-like cacophony of accents, lifting, lilting, laughing, the well dressed, unspoken self-importance of tourists, silently communicating they are from a better place and have ‘seen it all’ elsewhere – bigger, better, and more conveniently located.
As Nature ushers them into Tane’s presence, a hush descends, gasps, and whispers ensue, their well versed, world weary, educated importance displaced.
We stand, a united nations of tourism, dwarfed by Nature’s power, face to face with our mortality, our brief moment in history. Jaws drop, ripples of wonder and confusion, vain attempts to join the dots: alive since the time of Christ, 51.8 metres tall, 18.5 metres in girth. Ancient, ageing, craggy-shaped against a stark, fresh, ageless blue sky.
Something silky and silent stirs within, reminding of the green fuse that runs through us all.
A brief encounter unmasks the fear of insignificance, momentarily connecting, reminding. The tyranny of Nature’s silence unsettles, the need to reassert control surfaces. iPhones click and whirr, freezing the moment, sending it into cyber-space, FB, Instagram, socmed. Fence off, dissect, understand, equate, measure, compare and dwarf. A moment of intimacy, frayed.
The crowd thins.
“Hmmm, nearly as big as the Sequoias”, says the departing Canadian representative, dashing off, wife in tow, camera in hand, searching for the next natural attraction.
All the while, in Nature’s quiet museum, Tane, a tree that breathed the same air as Christ, silently inching its way upwards toward the light, offering a canopy of shade, and nesting branches for the passing birdlife.
Silence once again descends with no-one listening to the wisdom locked in its thrall. Tane stands. Still. Majestic. Regal.
Sitting quietly, I watch as they come and go, come and go, vainly searching for ways to dwarf the tree.
My reverie continues.
Nature leaves clues. Will I listen?
Let’s stop pretending. You have lost your connection.
Is this tree talking to me? Or am I lost in quiet imaginings? I can no longer tell.
A strange malady is sweeping the world: spiritual Alzheimer’s, characterised by a convenient forgetting of our deep natural memories.
But all is not lost. Nature can lead you home. She offers reliable, dependable clues.
How do I approach such a wise and ancient tree, so willing to share its bounty?
I fall silent. A petite Japanese woman approaches. She stands facing the tree. Silent. Still.
Slowly she stretches out her arms, raises them high above her head and slowly brings her palms to her heart, bowing her head. A thrill of energy passes between her and the tree, a connection, a mutual revelling in the gift of recognition.
Humility. Majesty resounds.
I stand. Approach. Bow.
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