The thing about trees

The whole Druids-trees thing is undoubtedly my favourite available Druid cliché. I don’t do white robes, am notably lacking in the beard department and am very seldom at Stonehenge, but trees, absolutely. Any chance I get. One of the problems with the last few years of boat life, is that trees have been in short supply. There are some willows, ash, and even hawthorn along my stretch of canal, but only on one side. Being near trees is nice, but it’s not the same as under them. There’s evidence that time under trees – just 5 minutes a day, improves mental health. I find that very easy to believe.

I like willow a lot, its resilience and utility make it deeply appealing to work with. However, I’m also very partial to beech trees, and un-shockingly, I like oak, hazel and yew as well. Hey don’t grow around here much. I didn’t used to get on with yew trees, but we seem to have reached an understanding now.
Being amongst trees is very different from being near a few trees. Ancient woodland is a whole other thing again. This is more than just trees, it’s about the fungi in the soil, the undergrowth and other denizens. A proper wood is far more than just trees. This is something that bothers me with tree planting, because while, yes, you can plant trees, if you don’t have the rest of the community, it’s not a wood, just a big clump of planted trees.

If a place has been wooded in the last fifty years, a surprising amount of what it takes to really make a woodland can be sat there in the soil, waiting for the trees to show up. This awes me.
The air is different, under trees. You can smell it, and that means, as you inhale woodland air, you are also inhaling something that is of the trees. I’m not sure what it is, but I do know how much it calms and settles me, how much cleaner and more whole I feel for getting to do this. I am also affected by the softness of light in woods, especially in summer. I’ve read a lot of tree related science (Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Trees, Diana Beresford-Kroeger The Global Forest, assorted articles). Enough to know that from a scientific perspective, the impact of trees on people is huge, and often to our benefit. Enough that, if you did not have a handle on the science, you’d have to call the power of trees magical.

I have a very keen sense that my ancestors evolved to live in close proximity with trees. I like open spaces, hill tops, open sky, but not all the time. I crave the dappled light and greenish air, the companionable rustling and the sense of peace. My absolute favourite is woodland that has water running through it. Happily, I found some of that this morning. Leaving the canal will not be hard, because I know where to find the things I need.
The ancient Druids did not have a sacred book. They had trees. Individual trees. Groves of trees. Woodlands. There are things to be learned in the company of trees that one human cannot hope to write down for the benefit of another. It’s something you breathe in, I suspect.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “The thing about trees

  • The Black Rose

    Very refreshing post–thank you! I, too, crave trees. I live in the urban forest–since this is where I’ve been planted for now. I see the houses among the trees rather than the other way around, and there are some pretty cool trees in my neighborhood. But it isn’t the same. When I get to a real forest I have a hard time leaving because it really is different under a tree, and more different still under a tree that isn’t surrounded by concrete.

    As long as I’m here I’ll see the trees, and how it could be when we appreciate them as neighbors and friends, and plant more of them and live among them instead of seeing them as decoration for our concrete and houses. If we don’t do this I think we soon won’t be here in the cities. The forests will reclaim the cities and it will be as it was before. And that will be fine, but if we choose to coexist, it can be even better.

  • Bruin Silverbear

    I have a small grove of trees behind my house that have become like old friends. I visit them when I can. Mostly conifers. I have a deep spiritual connection to Pine.

  • Alex Jones

    There is a beautiful new wood they planted 20 years ago in Colchester I love to visit.

  • Jennifer Tavernier

    This is beautifully written, and simply says it just right!

  • Andrew Smith

    Thanks, Nimue, for another beautiful blog.

    I, too, love woodland and walking among the trees, watching the filtered sun dancing on the leaves. The crunch under foot of twigs and leaf-fall; the soft, rich earth between toes. Birdsong high in the branches. And if there’s a breeze, it reminds me of standing on the rocks and watching as the sunset slips into the sea. Nothing beats a woodland walk, rain or shine, to soothe the soul.

    It’s about 20 years ago now when I first started training as a Druid and I never quite got to grips with Stonehenge or Glastonbury. Avebury I liked. And all three are certainly archaeologically interesting. But I never felt the buzz others felt. But among trees, life feels truly magical.

    And even if I can’t visit my favourite woods, I can conjure them up in my imagination and find myself back among the sights, sounds, scents and feel of the forest, and feel both peaceful and re-energised.

    Amidst the noise and haste of 21st-century life, woods (real or imagined) are wonderful oases of sanity and calm.

  • lornasmithers

    With you on this 🙂 I find oak to be sturdy friend, yew… I have a strong relationship with a particular yew tree and a couple of young ones but I still find some of them unfriendly and intimidating. Out of all of them I have the deepest connection with ivy- my area is very damp, she climbs and hangs everywhere binding the loose soil on the stream banks and providing berries for the birds. She’s taught me important lessons about the relations between things and survival.

    • Andrew Smith

      Good point, Lorna, about lessons. Trees offer a wealth of opportunities for learning about nature and life in general. I’ve used the life cycle of a tree to teach my young son about the cycle of life (leaves drop, rot, feed roots, tree grows, new leaves, drop, feed roots, etc), ecology (the many creatures which live in, on and from trees) and interdependence (trees breathe out oxygen for us as we breathe out carbon dioxide for them). A tree makes complex environmental topics very simple to understand.

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