By the end of my first retreat at Elat Chayyim, I had internalized the paradigm of living fully in the mystic’s “Four Worlds” of body, emotions, mind, and spirit and I wanted to commune physically with a  tree. I approached a great Pine (I think a White Pine) that grew outside the dining hall, embraced the trunk–yes, I hugged a tree–and gazed upward. I will do my best to embody in words the living vision that I experienced:

Massive and towering, the huge tree overwhelms my senses. I feel the textured bark, smell the earthy, piney scent, see the branches rustling in the summer breeze. Outwardly, the immense trunk and mighty branches are alive with myriad busy living creatures; inwardly they flow and grow with unseen currents of vitality.

White Pine

The height! Branches and twigs reach outward, soar upward, higher and higher in immense loftiness, until they appear to blend into the very light of the sky. Evergreen branches sway with the breeze, invisibly breathing forth life-giving oxygen, quivering and dancing with the light,melding into its radiance.

Higher, higher, my imagination ascends upon the Jacob’s ladder branches of the great tree. I aspire to climb ever higher, follow every twist and turn of the boughs, soar endlessly into the dancing, light aliveness! It is the living Tree of Torah, Wisdom, Consciousness, and it had no end: it climbs and ascends eternally.

At the same time my bare feet ground me in the soft pine needles on the earth, mingling with the tremendous roots of the great tree. For the unseen roots flow powerfully into the dark hidden places of the sacred nourishing earth, at least as deep and strong and numerous as the great branches that ascend so effortlessly into the brilliant light of heaven.

–Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan


With my children at my childhood ranch on the Sabinal River near Utopia Texas, 1980's

Taking my children to visit my childhood ranch on the Sabinal River near Utopia Texas, 1980’s.

Another tree that was very important to me was the fallen but still living Cypress that rested on the cliff on the bank of the Sabinal River at our ranch near Utopia Texas. If we gazed up the tree, it looked like the legs of a giant woman reclining on the cliff, and my father, who had an impish sense of humor, decided to name it Lydia Pinkham (go figure). This tree was like a friend and I used to lean on “her” and tell her my stories. I’ve had others tell me of similar tree “friends” that they had growing up. How about you?

Consider and Comment: Did you grow up with a special tree in your life, or have an experience of relating to a tree as a a conscious being in its own right, an “I-Thou?

Featured Image: Looking up a tree in Minneapolis, JHD

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