Parker Palmer: Trees
“I used to take trees for granted. But these days I know that sitting in their presence for a while will leave me refreshed and renewed. I wonder if trees photosynthesize the soul as well as sunlight? But most of all, I’m drawn to trees because of something W. S. Merwin says in this lovely poem—the way they slowly and quietly cycle through the seasons ‘as though nothing had happened while our individual and collective lives whirl madly around them.’” —Parker Palmer’s response to W. S. Merwin’s poem “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” in his weekly column in “On Being with Krista Tippett” (5/3/2017).
I want to remember what Parker Palmer is telling us about the outdoors, and trees especially. Could “trees photosynthesize the soul”? Being outside with trees does do something to my soul. Photosynthesis “is a process used by plants to convert light energy into chemical energy (sugar from carbon dioxide and water) that later is released to fuel the plants’ activities and releases oxygen as a waste product.” Plants are like transformers, changing one form of energy into another, turning light energy into chemical energy.
Being outside in a forest does transform and quiet my soul. Soon the busyness of my mind, the committee in my head, and my to do list no longer are managing my mind. I am grounded to the earth. I move out of my mind and into my body. I see a world greater than myself, a power at work beyond my limits. As I keep returning to the forest, I observe how the trees do quietly “cycle through the seasons.” The trees are a permanent icon, reminding us that we are to be the “steady bow,” as the parent that Khalil Gibran writes about in The Prophet. We are indeed all parents caring for this earth that in turn also parents us, cares for us.
My father was a forester who for so many Saturdays took people out to plant more trees. Often we would drive by the pine forest to see how they were growing. This produced some synapse change in my cells, so that I always had difficulty seeing a tree cut down. This poem is especially meaningful to me today, since two large trees in my neighbor’s yard just outside my window were uprooted last week. Yesterday men with chain saws took the trees away. I grieve for the trees’ absence. It helps to remember that our son and his wife had to cut down a dying tree that was adjacent to where they are building a house. They honored the tree by using the wood to make a mantel to go over their fireplace.
I look forward to hearing from you about what you have learned from trees and how you honor trees.
Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, email@example.com, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.