I’m a kid, laying on a green and white lounge chair looking up through the branches of the giant oak in my back yard. The branches are so far away you’d have to fly to get to them. They’re covered with green leaves, but not so many that I can’t see the blue sky between them. All these branches and leaves and sky make spaces, places to go. I imagine sitting in those spaces, walking from one to another, exploring them like rooms in a house.
We had two of these giant Oaks in the yard, surrounded by a brick barbecue, cement patios and cyclone fences. One had the date 1880 carved into it. They were a part of my life, as much as my friends and family. I can still remember what their rough thick bark felt like as I wrapped my finger around it. In the post-war suburbs, where I lived, trees, squirrels and sky were nature. And those giant oaks spoke of something so much bigger than myself. Something I couldn’t put into words, but understood on a visceral level.
Since then, I’ve had this thing for trees. And it wasn’t until a few days ago, when I actually hugged a tree, that I came to understand what that feeling was.
There’s this giant old oak tree growing on the edge of the path where I walk in the woods. It’s big enough that if I were to hold hands with myself, arms stretched wide, and make a ring around it, there’d have to be at least five of me. It’s the kind of tree that demands my attention. And it’s approachable. Its branches low on its huge trunk (branches as big as old trees themselves), like arms reaching out to hold me.
And I thought of my art and how trees have become such a big part of it. How it’s the most natural thing in the world for me to be drawing and stitching them. In my work they’re, grounded and strong, wise and gentle and comforting. They’re gods who reach deep into the earth and up to the heavens at the same time. A mysterious yet safe place. And I thought of the girls in my work. Standing in and under trees, some even being a part of them, their feet: roots, bodies: trunks, arms: branches. And the girls without trees, arms reaching up to the sky like branches, feet planted in the ground.
So, a few days ago, I walked up to that giant tree, growing on the edge of the path and leaned my body against it, my arms mimicking its branches. And I listened. What I saw in my mind was a vast stretch of sand. Beach without water, desert without vegetation. A long stretch of pale gray earth and sky. The word “eternity” came to mind, but what I felt was a more earthly concept, one with a beginning and an end. It had a sense of history. And the idea that the small things in life are not all there is. That the nagging annoyances are forgotten, our lives are bigger than everything that happens in them. I felt the hope that comes with the passage of time, the sense of a life seen from above. Like an aerial photo of something too large to be seen from the ground.
And I finally understood what was happening, looking up at the giant Oak in my back yard. I was a lonely and frightened kid, and these giant trees were a gentle comfort to me. Letting me know that life was so much bigger than my house and backyard, my family and neighborhood. That there was so much more to life than I could even imagine.
I lowered my arms, no longer mimicking the girl in my drawing, and hugged that tree as best I could. Then I gave it a kiss, and thanked it.
13 thoughts on “My Oak Tree”
This is so lovely Maria. The Oaks with the blue sky between it’s branches grew in Buffalo, N.Y. too. Our spirits just stood before each other as I read this.
Thank-you again, Cindy
Another connection between us Cindy. Love the way you expressed it.
Native people referred to those trees as ‘standing people’. Your descriptions of the oak trees with roots deeply in the earth and branches stretching up into the sky illuminate to me how naturally you have the sensibility of how native people revere all of nature and the harmonious way of seeing how we are all connected to it. I just love reading this. It brings back so many memories of learning from my native friends and elders – I realize how valuable their guidance was and how all of nature makes my spirit expand and soar when immersed in it. You bring those memories back with your writing and art to me.
Thanks for this Janet. The words Standing People makes so much sense to me. I feel the same about being in nature it’s good to hear coming from you.
So beautiful. I love this story, and your realization.
Is this piece for sale? I am about to move from a propoerty where I have lived for twenty years – I have never loved the house, but it is surrounded by several old large oaks that have become very dear to me. I am moving toa home in Illinois, where the house will work much better for me – but I will have to plant trees. I would love to have this piece to take with me, as a wonderful memory of my beloved oaks, if you are planning to sell it. I love your work, and this one expecially.
Thanks Karen, This tree is a detail from one of the drawings I did when Jon was in the hospital, so it’s not for sale. But, thanks for asking and good luck with your move. And your new trees.
This is such a wonderful story! Annie
I love your trees Maria and I love what you wrote about the trees in your childhood and present life, so true. When we were little we named the trees in our neighborhood and loved them.
I never thought of naming a tree Suzy. What a sweet and creative idea, especially for kids to do.
I loved reading your musings on trees and nature here Maria. I’m much inclined to tree hugging, there is such a beautiful outflowing of energy from them.
I’ve always loved trees, but then being an amateur botanist I just love growing things. Last night I had some sort of dream with trees and leaves. I smiled this morning knowing where that came from. I have been admiring your trees so long now- they have worked their way in to my dreams! Don’t know what the “dream message” was for me but then beauty is its own reason for being- a wonderful message.
What a lovely thing to dream Lois. They are powerful and beautiful both.