Trees and The Present


Last summer in the Redwood forest in CA, being in the presence of these stately old trees is humbling, yet it is impossible not to feel joyful. My cousin Patrick and I.

Anne Dillard “At the apogee of the road’s curve grew an enormous oak, a massive bur oak two hundred years old, one hundred and fifty feet high, an oak whose lowest limb was beyond the span of the highest latter, I looked up: there were clothes spread all over the tree. Red shirts, blue trousers, black pants, little baby smocks——There was a gay assortment of cotton underwear, yellow dresses, children’s green sweaters……You know roads. A bend comes and you take it, thoughtlessly moving on. I looked behind me for another split second, astonished; both sides of the tree’s canopy, clear to the top bore clothes. Trompe!

But there is more to the present than a series of snapshots. We are not merely sensitized film; we have feelings, a memory for information and an eidetic memory of the imagery of our own past.

Our layered consciousness is a tiered track for an unmatched assortment of concentrically wound reels, Each one plays out for all of life its dazzle and blur translucent shadow-pictures; each one hums at every moment its own secret melody in its own unique key. WE tune in and out. But moments are not lost. Time out of mind is time nevertheless, cumulative, informing the present. From even the deepest slumber you wake with a jolt–older, closer to death, and wiser, grateful for breath. …..Yes, you say, as if you’d been asleep a hundred years, this is it, this is the real weather” Chapter 6. Pilgrim At Tinker Creek



This Tree….I took this photo in Virginia, most likely around 2009, it is huge. Two days ago while reading Annie Dillard’s book Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, I happened on her description of similar tree and finally, I think, her way of describing this enormous tree captures it’s size. The other part, where she sees this tree with all those clothes hanging  was priceless, can you even imagine? Me, even with her vivid description, I still have a difficult time seeing those clothes hanging on such a tree. But, this is a tree like she saw. I am sure. I don’t think we run across trees this size often and when we do, we remember. I’ve visited the Redwood Forest in California, they are monster trees, but different. But, as she says in this quote above, we have a eidetic memory for the imagery of our own past. I get that, for that is what happened to me, upon reading this above quote, my memory went immediately to the photo and I couldn’t brush it away, I had to find that photo (where did I put it?). My OCD kicked in….


More on Trees….Father Sean Caulfield. Chapter 10 Spaces…

” I sit here looking at a pine tree outside my window. At first glance all pine trees, or at least of the same species, look alike. We look at them but we do not see them. In fact, no two are alike. To see the tree, we must look intently, concentrating on the spaces between the branches. It is not the branches, but the spaces between the branches that define the personality of the tree. It takes a little time. We must focus and hold. The tree does not yield up its secret easily. The secret is really our secret. We put our spirit on the tree, much like a composer does on the sounds, and it comes back to us changed. We become when we contemplate. Eventually, and this is consoling or a frightening thought, we become like the God we contemplate, the God of love. We take the tree into our spirit and it quietly reveals it’s own spirit –“you alone are the one who cares to know. I was not and I am, and now that you know me I shall never cease to be. I am part of your fullness forever. To a logger I am only money, to an artist I have aesthetic value, to another I give shade or warmth to his furnace. But to you I am the word of God. This is the inner essence of my being. When he fashioned me out of nothingness I was modeled on himself. In some small way he had to be like a pine tree for a pine tree to exist. I am a word he speaks in trunk and branches and spaces…….” This is a little of what the tree says as it bends down and embraces me with its branches. To say that it actually does that would involve us in magic. But, not to see or hear anything would leave us blind and deaf to the reality around us, doomed to isolated and uninteresting lives. And once we grasp the personality of one tree, then all trees get into the act.”

Some of the trees that I have met…..


A Virginia favorite



To really get this photo, you would need to lay down and take the photo. I did not. ha! Redwood.


Thomas Jefferson described the Tulip Poplar as “The Juno of our Groves” when he forwarded seeds to a Parisian friend, Madame de Tesse, in 1805. The Tulip Poplar, also called Yellow Poplar or Tuliptree, is a fast growing tree and the tallest hardwood species of the eastern North American forest. — at The Saunders-Monticello Trail. This tree was once standing next to Monticello, but as you can see from the hollow interior, it finally became time to cut it down. Now it’s been placed out on The Saunders-Monticello Trail.


My brother standing near a beauty on the Blue Ridge Mountain Trail.


Lovely view near Shell Knob, MO. I lived here one year.


Another Missouri tree near me. (well, two trees really)


In Virginia where I worked, this tree on the right had to be taken down, it was a beauty.


There is something about this view that moves me.

Sean Caulfield goes on the say “The spirit of the forest is awesome and sublime. It mocks the pettiness of our lives. But even our lives have spaces, spaces in human affairs. They are the non-temporal moments when thoughts die into decisions, decisions into act. They form our personality.

The finite is complex. It is easily fragmented. Contemplative awareness can hold it together. It draws together all the powers of our spirit and body to center on the deepest level of our being where God, the ground and source of being, is present as gift and salvation. In quiet contemplative praying fragmented people are put back together again. Back at the time when I was pushing the idea of opening a monastery in the Philippines I was, myself, a very fragmented person. I was being told that I never ceased being a diocesan priest and I should return. I was torn apart within, not knowing what to believe. There was nobody who could give me a sense of direction or say; “Look, this is all part of being a monk.” I am not given to superstitious signs, but there is a harmony of things that to the intuitive mind indicates a way to go, a time to make a decision. I did not have that harmony, and there was no indication that any decision would be a step forward. I spent weeks in prayer, nights in nightmares. We have this conceit in the Trappist that our way of life is the ultimate in human endeavor, and flunking out is regrettable failure. We put a great deal into the life and leaving it is traumatic. Eventually I wrote my former diocese and was invited to return. I had been 18 years in the Trappist.”

He goes on to say on the day of his departure, he was saying goodbye to a few of the monks and one replied: “Ah well, there were some good things about you.” Sean says he was so low “this condemnation by faint praise actually picked me up.”

So where do I go from here? I’ve been typing from two of my favorite writers today. I’ve been inspired by them and their spiritual harmony with trees. I love the honest and humble writing of Sean Caulfield, he let’s me see his warts and all. Reading his life experiences, ups and downs, is educational. I tend to be so hard on myself, I shelter myself from others in order to live in peace. They say in order to experience peace, you have to lower your expectations. I not only do that, I just stay away, then I have no way to get hurt. I guess it works, I feel contented. I’ve passed the point in my life where I feel obligated to achieve new heights, I basically want to find a way to live in harmony. I get to live that way out here in the woods, I have a very simple life and my days are pretty ordinary.  I want to end with something profound, but I am having a time with that right now. I am not getting much original thought. I am thinking of a quote I read yesterday and wanted to make a point of retaining it, maybe I will end with that.

Many of those who strive to overcome pride are hoping to puff themselves up with this triumph. Hakim Jami

That quote is indeed worth pondering…..have fun!  Go climb a tree?  I don’t think that would be safe for me. I used to do it and loved being up in our tree house. An old osage orange (or horse apple tree)…..wonder if it’s still standing? hmmmm?








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