When I Am Among The Trees
Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees.
In August, I wrote a post about learning to love the ocean. Now, recently, I’ve been waking up with an itch to be around the trees, trying to grasp onto the yellow and orange before they disappear into the soil. When Mary Oliver said “Love yourself. Then, forget it. Then love the world”, I think this must be what she meant. I wouldn’t say I completely love myself just yet, but I do think that I’ve grown into a body I feel at home in. I’m learning to navigate the world with these fresh eyes. I’m trying to find my place in it.
I spent most of the pandemic at home in Virginia, driving down roads lined with tall trees to my shifts at work. This period of adjustment and isolation forced me to look outwards to escape the chaos that was happening inwards. I found comfort in the sparkling shadows that the leaves left across the house at golden hour or the way the sunlight winked at me through the branches. Maybe this is why the winter was so difficult, with all the leaves gone. I felt raw and stripped by the pandemic, exhausted from online classes and holiday shifts. Though I knew spring was coming, and that the seasons can’t go on lockdown, I found it hard to believe when winter felt like it would never end. But after all, pine trees are evergreen. They’re celebrated in the winter. And trees without leaves are still trees. I remember an evening last December, entering a Christmas-decorated bookshop with a new friend, and buying my copy of Mary Oliver’s Devotions. It wasn’t until reflecting on this that I realized that the pages came from trees themselves. Nature was still there guiding me through my growth, even when everything around me seemed to have stopped.
I feel like my desperation to be outside now is in fear of winter, wanting to grasp tightly onto the last dry brown leaves. I associate the loss of them with a dark stillness, a constant waiting for spring. But every year, despite all the dryness and the cold, the trees make a commitment to continuous living. On my walk in Greenwich Park a few weeks ago, I came across Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, which was planted in the 12th century. How many winters did this tree face? How many times did it lose all its leaves, knowing it would flower again? Though it died in the late 1800s, it remains where it was first planted, decomposing slowly and living through the grass and the replacement oak next to it.
May Sarton wrote in Journal of Solitude:
Does anything in nature despair except man? An animal with a foot caught in a trap does not seem to despair. It is too busy trying to survive. It is all closed in, to a kind of still, intense waiting. Is this a key? Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.
Learn to lose in order to recover. We must lose all our leaves, let go, and give in to the softness of the soil. This will feed our growth, it will feed our survival, and we will bloom again. Trees are the physical manifestation of resilience, of rebirth and renewal. We should do what we can to mirror them.
One of my favorite poems by Ada Limòn is called “Instructions on Not Giving Up”:
More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees that really gets to me. When all the shock of white and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath, the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin growing over whatever winter did to us, a return to the strange idea of continuous living despite the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then, I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
When I first moved into my flat there was a tiny sprout between the ledges of my kitchen window. It was weird, but mostly I found it admirable how nature can find its way past the most concrete of obstacles. Even after the longest, most difficult winters, trees remain rooted, ready to flower in the spring. I suppose being around them is a reminder of my time at home — a cure for homesickness, a quiet place to regenerate, and the physical, worldly representation of how far I’ve come and the flowering I still have ahead.
This morning I was walking from my local coffee shop and a leaf fell on my head. I considered it a kiss.
What I Enjoyed This Week
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante. I read this for class but I enjoyed it enough to consider it a pleasure read. It tells the story of a mother who descends into an empty madness after her husband of 15 years leaves her. She is forced to confront her demons and is often horrible in the process. What really gripped me about this novel is that we don’t often see stories of women having crises externally, rather they are often placed into a stream-of-consciousness narrative that occurs primarily internally (or the women are so privileged to stop their lives to go mad, re: My Year of Rest and Relaxation). The protagonist attempts to balance this deep struggle with the responsibility of caring for children, a dog, a house. She doesn’t do a very good job of it. It almost reads as psychological horror. Nonetheless, it was visceral and biting. Ferrante writes like a master of human emotion. 4/5
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood. I thought about leaving this out, but all reads are valid reads, and sometimes it’s okay to want to turn your brain off and read something silly and romantic. It was a good palette cleanser, though I didn’t connect with it much. 2.5/5
“So We Must Meet Apart” by Gabrielle Bates and Jennifer S. Cheng via The Poetry Foundation This is just. Brilliant. There is light between my fingers if I look close enough.
Other Wonderful Things
Adele’s 30. Obviously. I feel like I grew up with her, listening to 21 in my mom’s car on my way to middle school. This album is so intensely personal and moving, and her vocals make it more so. You can tell she does everything with such soul and heart. I think my favorite track is “My Little Love”, simply because I bawled my eyes out listening to it.
My parents surprised me with some goodies from Trader Joe’s in the mail on Thursday and I cried so much opening the box that I had to leave the flat and go for a walk. I don’t know whether it was their thoughtfulness or homesickness or a combination of both. But something has felt like it was missing these past few months and I can now confidently say that it was likely the Everything But The Bagel seasoning. Puzzle complete. Thanks, Mom and Dad <3
I made this Hungarian Mushroom Soup recipe for dinner on Friday and it healed me from the inside out. From what, I’m not sure. I just feel healed.
Thanks for reading.