Tree soul

The other evening, my arms warmly wrapped around a young oak in a local woodland, I was enjoying fleeting thoughts about the symbiotic relationship between trees and people, reciprocal exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the new-ish discoveries of how trees communicate and experience sensations…when a man passed by with his dog.

The scene of the crime: where I was caught tree-hugging (pic taken the same evening)

“Oops, that was embarrassing, being caught tree-hugging!” I quipped.

“It’s OK – I get it,” the man replied briefly but reassuringly as he quickly carried on.

To be honest, I think many of us get it – the importance not only of our relationship with nature and the benefits of that relationship, but also of the realisation that we are part of (although also separate from) nature.

Wild rose

Even if we don’t all go around hugging trees as an expression of that unity.

Over the years I’ve received some heart-warming compliments for my (very) amateur nature photography on social media. One friend said, “Your pictures bring me joy.”

Brown argus
Brown Argus

I guess I hope that in some way, my photos, such as the ones included here, are not simply pretty pictures – or even photos that inspire a love for nature. Although that would be enough. But also that they somehow convey something of my own – and your – relationship with nature.

Iron Prom
Iron Prominent moth on my hand

One thing that I’ve learned, through meditating on creation and its Creator (and reading Richard Rohr!), is that God is not only expressed in every thing, but, being Trinity (i.e. ‘Relationship’), God is somehow even more present in the loving, reciprocal relationships between those things, between us, and in those relationships that we have with the world around us.

Tortoiseshell on mallow
Small Tortoiseshell and mallow

Rohr puts it like this:

When we love something, we grant it soul, we see its soul, and we let its soul touch ours. We must love something deeply to know its soul (anima). Before the resonance of love, we are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” us and help us live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until we can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, we probably haven’t discovered our own souls either. Soul knows soul through love, which is why it’s the great commandment (Matthew 22:36).

Hannah poppies

Now, to me, that sounds like a great reason to keep on tree-hugging.

(All photos mine. All taken recently except the one of my daughter with the poppies, taken in 2014. And all say something about reciprocal relationships.)


The Leaves of the Trees

The case for re-connecting with nature seems to never stop mounting.

Whether it’s advocates of forest school, to promote the healthy emotional and social development of children.

Or charities organising outdoor activities and mindfulness walks, for the mental health and wellbeing of adults.

These things need to be said and done, as ‘civilised’ society, without active efforts to stop itself, tends to slip further and further away from nature, to its own detriment and self-destruction.

“At times I feel as if I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons.” Carl Jung

It’s good to be reminded that humankind and nature are not two distinct things, but that humankind is part of nature. And that any mending of that artificial fracture brings us back to who we are. Back to the Source of our being.

A walk in the woods, as we know, is of utmost therapeutic benefit.

Interesting, then, that the last chapter of the Bible, looking forward to the renewed earth of a future age, describes a “tree of life” whose “leaves are for the healing of the nations”. In fact, the Greek word translated “healing” in this verse is therapeia, from which we have the English word therapy.

Trees and their leaves are indeed therapeutic.

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.” Oliver Sacks (neurologist and author).

There’s a silver stream of wisdom running through the ages, from ancient prophets to the climate activists, tree-huggers, nature conservationists, doctors and ordinary people of today, enticing communities back to our roots (pardon the pun) for individual and collective health and wholeness.

Simon & Garfunkel, mourning the unstoppable progress of change, sang that “the leaves that are green turn to brown.” But they often turn to red, yellow and gold, too.

This autumn, I hope that you, like me, will enjoy watching the leaves change and find breaths of new life as we walk among them.

And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 21:2

(all photos taken by me in Newgate Woods, Hastings)