(Excerpts from Reclaiming the Wild Soul, Mary Reynolds Thompson)
Today I have grown taller from walking with the trees.
Karle Wilson Baker
The tree is god, she told her daughter. You must not cut him down. Every day the young girl walked by the god tree on her way to get water. The daughter came to revere the tree, learned how he helped keep the stream clean--the stream that held pearls of tadpole eggs and the life-giving water she brought home. Then the white people came and took down all the trees and put up a church instead. The god tree was gone. And so the stream dried up and the frogs died, and the land became barren.
The little girl in that story was Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya. Today, her organization has helped plant over 40 million trees in Kenya and other countries. Like the ancient god tree she revered as a child, she became a true elder--one who lived to serve the community.
Wangari Maathai died of ovarian cancer in 2011, but her legacy lives on. This is what elders do: they serve the needs of the young and the vulnerable. Old trees do this and elder humans do this.
And both are being cut down.
In old-growth forests, grandmother trees, whose roots spread across large sweeps of the forest floor, provide nutrients to younger, growing trees through a complex underground network. Ancient Douglas firs drop lobar--a kind of lichen--onto the ground, turning nitrates into nitrogen that nurtures the young saplings. Failing to protect ancient groves, viewing elder trees as offering nothing special beyond their value as timber, we compromise the entire forest community.
Time and again, nature shows us that ancient wisdom has intrinsic worth above and beyond the new.
WRITING PROMPT: Do you remember a grandmother or grandfather tree from your childhood? Was there a particular tree that stands out in your memory--in whose arms you felt safe and sheltered?
If you can't recall a grandparent tree from your youth, simply search out a tree in a local park or neighborhood that holds elder energy. Or look for an image of an elder tree in a magazine.
When you're ready, write a character sketch of your chosen tree in all her many details: texture, smell, distinguishing marks, height, shape, and demeanor. Describe the tree with rich attention to how she appears to you and the way you felt (or feel) in her presence.
What is it that draws you to this particular tree? What energy emanates from her? When you've completed writing your character sketch, take a moment to answer this question:
In what ways does this tree teach me about how I want to grow into my elderhood? Write your response on the page.