“Trees were the temples of the gods, and, following old established ritual, country places even now dedicate an outstandingly tall tree to a god.”
Pliny the Elder, Natural History
What we find in the news and social media tends to frame much of what we think about throughout the day. This calls for a consideration of our daily thought patterns.
We rational animals are always thinking about something or other. But just what we think about—and in what mode and unto what end—can vary dramatically. As individuals and even as a society we might become very narrow in our focus. We might become fixated on certain things and then spend much time thinking—and perhaps worrying—about these, to the exclusion of other things.
There are of course practical things that require our attention, research, and deliberation. And we certainly should not hide from the pressing matters that need to be faced.
Nonetheless, I think our contemporary habit now tends toward obsessive attention to certain matters—some of which rightly call for attention, others of which do not—to the practical exclusion of many other things: things that can and should give balance and context to the daily churning of our thoughts.
Tall trees are especially wondrous. Pliny’s account reports that many ancients associated them with the gods. It’s interesting to think about why. Somehow trees made people think of higher things—as though a tall tree pierced into a world above our own. Or rather, a tree embodied and signified the presence of something transcendent, yet very much of the earth, right here among us.
Trees speak of solidity and permanence. They speak of patience and endurance. They speak of the future and a hope. They speak of life, even amidst death.
Is this just an optimistic projection and/or a desperate seeking of refuge? I don’t think so. Trees are saying something to us. They always have been. We might not rightly hear what they are saying—that will take effort on our part. But I am absolutely convinced that today more than ever, we would do well to make space to leave behind the steady thrumming of news and media and refocus our attention.
It is a real step in restoring our health and inner peace to take the time to practice thinking about the trees.
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Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) was a Roman naturalist and general. His Natural History is an important early work in natural science.
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