Sacred Groves, Mighty Cathedrals

Replete with gratitude and Thanksgiving repast, I sought the outdoors for a little reflective time and to come out of the turkey stupor. The rush of cold air instantaneously removed the cobwebs from my mind. I took a walk in the woods appreciating how wonderful it felt to be in this place at this moment. It felt very right.

As much as I enjoy hiking in more open spaces, it is amidst the trees that I’m made aware of my state of grace. Walking slowly along the tall pillars of this hallowed space, my breath is deep and deliberate. My body relaxes as accumulated tensions slip away. The soft light of the late afternoon streams through the high fenestrations in the naked branches bracing the forest’s vault. It creates gentle shadows that will soon merge into a singular darkness.

At first, I’m only conscious of the quiet but, as I let go of the noise in my head, the hushed sounds of life in the woods let me know that I’m not alone. My presence, if noted, does not appear to cause an interruption. Here, there is room for everybody. All are welcome.

Before I know it, I’m feeling more alive and uplifted. Restored in spirit, I head back to the house. It has only been a mere twenty minutes but I know the positive effects will remain much, much longer.

Trees have this power to influence us in ways beyond our understanding. Cultures all over the world have held them precious, sacred. Beyond the fact that trees are the source of fuel and food, shelter and shade, abodes and boats, they have been venerated. Trees have played a central, valued role in human history. Siddhartha became the Buddha under a Bodhi tree. There is the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. The Wishing Tree and the World Tree. In religion, mythology and literature one finds trees given exalted positions in the human context. All across the globe there are Sacred Groves, Holy Trees, labyrinths amidst trees and, old forests rich in folk lore. We need trees but they can well do without us.

I recall my visit to the Monarch Grove in Pacific Grove, California about ten years ago. Having read that west of the Rockies, Monarch butterflies spend their winters in this stand of eucalyptus trees, I was determined to visit it. It was August so no Monarchs were going to be there but I still felt compelled to go. We found it with some difficulty and as I approached the grove, it looked like nothing much. However, once I stepped into it, an inexplicable calm came over me. I had no doubt whatsoever that this was sanctified space. The Monarchs had blessed it so. Even in their absence, the holiness of the place was palpable. The eucalyptus stood sentinel. Guardians of everything meaningful; maintaining nature’s delicate balance. It was spellbinding. When I left this fragrant, leafy temple, I took with me the sense of having been in the presence of greatness.

I will share here something I’ve never told anyone – when I’m upset or troubled, I choose a tree and pour out all my thoughts and fears to it. Leaning on it or sitting beneath, I vent. The tree silently absorbs my worries and thus unburdens me so I am free to return to the business of living wholly. I call it my Shrieking Tree. Perhaps it ought to be renamed as the Shrink Tree. Has worked wonders for me.

Many years ago, we took our first trip to Provence, France. Topmost on my husband’s must-do list was to hug an ancient olive tree. Who knows why but this cerebral and pragmatic man felt driven to connect with a tree that had stood witness to so much history. It mattered to him. That’s it really, trees are inextricably linked to our human heritage. After all, we used to be arboreal.

Trees are living landmarks. They represent our past and hold our future. They need to be protected, honored and celebrated. Future generations deserve to inherit these treasured monuments of life.

If you haven’t paid much attention to trees lately, been too busy, stressed to the max and feel like you need more hours to the day, I ask you to pause. Trust me, whatever you are doing can wait a bit. Now go outside into the garden or to the nearest park or woods. Pick a good sized tree. Get close and lean into it. Spread your arms around it. Breathe deep.
Notice how you feel. Let the texture of the bark speak to you. Smell the earthiness. Listen to the sounds. Become aware of the dappled light, the temperature of the air and tree, the colors around. Allow the tree to embrace you back. Close your eyes and permit it to comfort you. Remain there for a few minutes or longer. Then, step back and observe how much better you feel. Hug a tree, hug the world.

Ancient olive trees

Ancient olive trees

 

The woods that border my garden

The woods that border my garden

 

The tree house

The tree house

 

Snow forest

Snow forest

 

Labyrinth in the woods

Labyrinth in the woods

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Note: If you are looking to send secular cards this season, or in need of hostess/teacher gifts, you might want to consider my botanical cards.
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

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One thought on “Sacred Groves, Mighty Cathedrals

  1. Wonderful. And to think that the term “tree hugger” has been used pejoratively by anti-environmentalists. As per your advice, I will make it my business to hug one of our tall friends tomorrow.

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