O wondrous trees, my old friends, Albert Schweitzer addresses the trees and ends his confession: teach me, brothers, to live thus, to die thus. Vasily Shukshin embracing the white birch trees in the ﬁlm Red Kalina may have seemed funny to some, but the ancient pagan atavism, the worship of trees, groves and groves, still survives in a corner of the human soul.
Many people came to say goodbye to the old linden tree, which had succumbed to the storm at the dignified age of two and a half centuries.
He who plants a tree has not passed through earthly life in vain, says a French proverb, which I recall in order to commend myself.
I have planted a number of fruit trees in my cottage and last year I decided to grow my own forest. More like a little forest, which so far numbers only twenty caraway trees. Compared to the countryman in Giono’s book The Man Who Planted Trees, who in thirty years of tireless, unpaid work transformed a bleak wasteland into a life-giving landscape, I am a mere wretch.
If I were a pragmatist, I would regard trees as sophisticated machines, producing wood and oxygen, or fruit, in the most economical way, from almost nothing.
I’m not a pragmatist, and I see trees as living beings that we humans don’t know much about. We know that when attacked by pests, trees send warning signals to their fellows and they have time to develop defensive antibodies – but what do trees actually mean?
Forrest Carter, a writer of Native American descent, recounts the story in his curious book The School of the Little Tree:
Huge white oaks grew in the mountains of Cherokee territory, but they attracted loggers. When they marked the trees to be cut down, the oaks began to wail and the Indians decided to save them. They destroyed the loggers’ access road and they barely had time to repair it. The mutually exhausting fight was decided by a massive, perfectly healthy oak that fell on the loggers’ wagon. They gave up on building the road and hauled off unharmed.
The Cherokee then held a full moon celebration, with the white oaks singing a funeral song for the fallen tree that had given its life to save its comrades.
Yes, trees are noble creatures. They don’t lie, they don’t gossip, they don’t intimate, they don’t cheat, they don’t envy their neighbor’s bigger house, faster car and prettier wife, they don’t spread bad moods, they don’t wage wars…
They’re good at keeping quiet.
But if we could understand them, we might hear in their murmurs a rebuke that we are always in a hurry, that we are running away from ourselves, that we can’t stand still and live. Few people can do that. Perhaps only the mental patient who stood for days in the garden to put down roots.
Try it too, and if your legs hurt, sit or lie down. You won’t root, but you’ll feel good in the healthy air, and you’ll have lovely, windy thoughts.
Trees can be made into anything but trees. Any fool can stomp on a beetle, but no one can bring it back to life.