I was deeply touched when my mother shared with me an experience which she had a number years ago with her younger sister, my Aunt Carolyn. Carolyn passed away several years ago from breast cancer and this particular incident of which I am about to recount took place a year or two before she died. My mother was in Auckland visiting Carolyn at her beautiful home on the outskirts of that big New Zealand city. The two became very close in later years and my mother often made the trip north to spend time with her.
The later visits were particularly poignant because of Carolyn’s illness and yet despite this they were also joyful visits and deeply satisfying as Carolyn never tried to hide or ignore the fact that she might not overcome her illness. She was honest about it and honest about the fact that she was not quite ready to face the ultimate challenge and yet one could sense that she was nevertheless facing her fears with enormous courage and coming to accept them in her heart. She took the fruits of this precious teaching into her everyday life with the understanding that every moment was precious. There was none of the anger that can often accompany an unexpected and serious illness. Instead, there grew in her an implicit understanding that sooner or later we all must face the great leveler and being an utterly gracious and compassionate woman, she knew enough of truth to know when to bow down to it.
One day, during this particular visit, she surprised my mother by asking her to get ready to accompany her. She would disclose nothing at all about where they were going. It was all rather mysterious. They put a few things into the car. Loaded the picnic basket and took off into the cool and pleasant morning. Several hours they were driving along, stopping often to gaze out at the contrasting colors and beauty of the New Zealand countryside.
Eventually, they turned onto a dirt road and followed it along on the loose metal surface for several miles until they reached a small car-park. Still, without giving away anything as to the purpose of their visit, Carolyn climbed out and beckoned to mum to follow. They wandered along a gravely pathway until suddenly they turned a bend in the path and right there before them was Tani Mahuta. The name was given by the Maori and translates as Lord of the Forest. It is a huge and very ancient kauri tree.
The sheer size, the silent power and majesty which rose before them so suddenly in the shape of this whispering giant made my mother gasp. It simply took her breath away. Never, in her entire life, she later recounted, had she felt such an instantaneous and overpowering sense of awe, quite spontaneously the tears had begun to flow down her cheeks and her immediate instinct had been quite simply to fall on her knees in homage.
In those days Tani Mahuta was not as famous or as frequently visited as it is today. One could approach the tree along a forest trail that was completely closed in on all sides by thick and towering trees and undergrowth. It could not be seen from the road or even the pathway until one came to a bend in the path and turned the corner. Then it suddenly appeared right in front of one’s vision in all its immensity and splendor.
Now there is a wooden walkway in place which carries one right to the base of the tree but not close enough to be able to touch it or trample the immense roots beneath. These are now all protected very tastefully by wooden walkways and the whole tree has been fenced in, so there is no more the possibility to embrace this mighty giant even if only a tiny part of it. Perhaps my mother and Carolyn were among New Zealand’s earlier tree-huggers and in those days, they had ample opportunity to do just that.
Tani Mahuta, is the largest known surviving kauri tree in the world. Its age is unknown, but it is estimated to be somewhere between 1,000 to 2,500 years old. It is from the Argarthis australis genus of trees and stands today in the Waipoua forest north of Auckland. For my mother, this occasion was a deeply spiritual experience of which she never spoke without a renewed sense of reverence and awe.
This extraordinary world in which we live is a dynamic and living web of interconnected life. How is this so? What is the unifying factor which pervades this universe? Like one breathing organism, our world expands and contracts in a continuous revolving cycle, the very center of which is unmoving and unchanging. The source of all being is a common factor which binds us all inextricably together whatever outer form we may find ourselves in.
In this instance, I make mention of trees. Often they surround us on all sides. They are the silent witnesses to our lives and yet how much attention do we ever give them? Most often they are simply there on the fringes of our awareness, present and yet largely unseen.
It is time to pay homage to trees. How they have blessed my life and i am sure have blessed yours as well, is a fact for which I am immensely grateful. It is so easy to pass them every day and barely notice them at all and yet there they are, the whispering ones… With complex and sophisticated networks of communication between and among themselves and a sentient life all of their own, they most assuredly deserve our attention.
Jai Krishnamurti asked;
How do you look at a tree? Do you see the whole of the tree? If you don’t see it as a whole, you don’t see the tree at all. You may pass it by and say, ‘There is a tree, how nice it is!’ or say, “It is a mango tree,” or “I do not know what those trees are; they may be tamarind trees.” But when you stand and look, I am talking actually, factually – you never see the totality of it; and if you don’t see the totality of the tree, you do not see the tree.
–Seeing the Whole, from the Book of Life.
As with all things in nature, trees give us another opportunity to witness, first hand, our interconnect-ness with the world in which we live, move and have our being. These silent warriors, are like sentinels guarding the very portals to awareness itself. All trees are interconnected with one another in ways in which we are barely even cognisant and the trees, in their turn, are connected to us within a vast network of interlinking, breathing living-ness.
When I was very young, forests always appeared to me to be very lively and mysterious places. My parents favourite picnic spot, when I was growing up in Nelson, New Zealand was a large forest of pine trees which grew on a piece of land that jutted out into the bay, called Rabbit Island. We often visited there. Whenever entering its precincts i was immediately overcome with the fresh scent of thousands upon thousands of pine needles and cones from the many acres of looming coniferous trees. They emitted the delicate, fragrant scent of cedar and pine.
I always felt so refreshed by this fragrance whenever we entered these forests and to this day the smell of pine needles and the sound of a breeze among the pine trees holds a deeply nostalgic significance in my heart. There is nothing of the mental in this and yet everything of a direct and emotive experience. I will always be grateful for what the forests of this earth have and continue to teach us. Their wisdom is given so freely and simply and points towards the very highest of truths. Our forests and our trees are the precious earthly heritage that links us to that essential nature which is present in all living things. This is a sacred link and must be treasured and guarded.
It is fitting to conclude with the verses by Joyce Kilmer;
A poem lovely as a tree.
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A nest of robins in her hair;
Who intimately lives with rain.
But only God can make a tree
Share this Post