Looking at Trees

by Pamela Goode

Costa Rica Tree, by Pamela Goode

When the kids were young and we lived in a small town in South Carolina, I was briefly a biker. I’d hop on my Wal-Mart Special every afternoon, plug in Jason’s walkman and pedal as hard as I could, asking questions and listening for answers in the music. After the requisite number of laps around the park by the bay, I’d coast into the historic district and walk my bike into the cemetery at Prince George, laying my body flat on the weathered stone that covered one of the raised tombs beneath the dogwoods. Music off now, I’d stare through the leaves, lime or forest or claret as the seasons changed, peering beyond them to watch dark birds so far beyond my eyes etching circles into the blue. I didn’t think, and I didn’t need to think — the watching filled my heart and soul and soothed my limbs and made the way seem easy. Sometimes I’d let a question lie beside me on the stone in quiet co-existence. More often than not, I walked back to my bike and headed for home with a fresh view. I made friends with the issues, and the issues were usually content to fall away.

Some days I need more trees. I need to be able to stand on the sand near the bay, or sit on the gritty picnic table in salty jeans with my face upturned and listen to the trees talking each to each, the wind singing by on tiptoe or deep-throated, grabbing me by the ears and rouging my cheeks and urging me to join the dance, to hear, to grasp, to run, to yelp with joy or sorrow or passion or fear or laughter but to pull out of myself and join in the sound of the pines and the sky and the circling birds. I haven’t been there in a while.

I once wondered if I listened hard enough, or well enough, or often enough, if I could learn the words or the tune or the meaning of treesong. Outside of Harry Potter and, was it Babes in Toyland? — I’ve never seen an evil tree. Trees are universally comforting. They shelter, cradle, feed, and dance and soothe us with a sense of permanence and balletic invincibility. I need to take myself back there.

Some days the best thing that happens is the kindness of a stranger with grandma hair and warm hands, making sure she looks you in the eye when she speaks so you can feel her words even if you can’t hear them. Some days it hurts to reach because you have a hole in your flesh big enough to pass a pair of tweezers through. Some days those you adore want to be with you every minute, because they need to hold on to the love and make it real enough to stand as a fortress. Some days are made of nothing but hours and the ticking of second hands, because nothing exists between the tweezers and the call. Some days there is nothing better than holding hands, and nothing that heals as much as looking at trees.