Recently a woman sent me a message on Facebook, commenting on my cover photo of the “glorious” tree roots intricately woven around rocks. She wondered where I found the photo. I told her I came upon the tree when hiking along a river in the mountains above Big Sur. Something about the tree and its rootedness arrested me, and inspired me so much I use it on several of my online sites. It’s gratifying that others are inspired by it as I have been. But trees have been an inspiration for artists and philosophers throughout the ages.
Recently I came across this quote from Hermann Hesse, the author of Siddhartha, on Zen Flash.
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.
They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.
In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree…
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
The line I love most is how “they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.” And that is “exemplary” as Hesse notes and denotes a kind of holiness, to remind us all of the need to be true to ourselves, to find our singular purpose in being and struggle with all the force of our lives to fulfill it, regardless of whether anyone takes note of it or us at all.
That tree found growing along the bank of that creek may have gone unseen, unappreciated by human eyes, its entire lifespan, and yet it would have fulfilled its purpose nonetheless. That is its great strength, the thing that makes it exemplary, and holy. Simply being what one was meant to be suffices. Nothing else is needed.
Having said that, here’s a paradox: The tree cannot fulfill itself alone. It is dependent upon its entire environment to fulfill its purpose. Those stones that probably felt like such an obstacle when it was striving to grow from a sapling to a mighty oak is what helped shape it and distinguish it and perhaps even strengthen it. It is what drew me to the tree.
I found in it something almost indescribably beautiful and inspiring, how it used the very stones that blocked its roots to build a firm foundations, and how it in turn become the foundation of new growth, creating a home for the ivy and moss and lichens that grow upon it, giving shelter to the small animals and insects that burrow beneath. It exemplifies that interdependence by which we all live and shows how strength and vulnerability grow hand in hand to create beautiful lives.
Here are a few more faces of this lovely tree.
Other posts on trees you might like: