After three long weeks of work at my new job, I needed a respite from the world of bits and pieces. I was able to find one right outside my door.
I sat silently in the small Los Angeles courtyard, gradually forgetting the challenges and stresses of running a company. I felt the comforting presence of the tree above me, shading me from the sun when I got too hot, and breathing with me in time. The tree let little glimpses of light shine through, while its neighbors reflected the sun with their leaves, creating a dynamic, daytime star field as they swayed in the breeze – telling their ancient story:
Throughout the history of man, trees have played a crucial role in our development. Years ago, they were our shelter, giving us a better perspective from up high and protecting us from predators. We shared this home with many other creatures who also sought a place in which to flourish. But like those other animals, we needed to leave our homes to gather resources, find mates, and exchange goods. Life was simple, but fraught with danger.
And then man learned of fire through some act of nature, God, Prometheus, or Lucifer. He discovered how to contain the flame and then how to create it. Those with this knowledge held a clear advantage over those left in the dark.
The carriers of the light traveled north to explore the uninhabited lands. The trees became more coniferous, the nights grew long, and the winters became a blistering cold. Trees, preferable in their decaying state, were burned to keep our internal flame going. We were safeguarded against night stalkers and hypothermia. The flame even became a sign of civilization – a gathering point around which a community of humans might form. The torch currently symbolizes this phenomenon.
Though originally made of earth and stone, the houses of these humans once again became the trees. But this time, the trees were felled and reordered into more and more suitable shelters. They provided a sufficient barrier against the outside world, giving a sense of safety in a perilous existence.
They even became our vessels against the sea, opening up new worlds. Man was able to move people and goods in much higher quantities, at much greater speeds, because of the amazing properties of wood. How else could so many Irish, Chinese, and African people have been shipped to labor in the New World, but for our mastery of trees?
We can look around today and see how integral the tree has been to our way of life. But does our relationship to the tree not go any deeper? Perhaps.
For one, we share the same calendar with trees. Trees mark their solar years in a circular fashion, while we blow out the flames of our years stuck into a cake.
Tremendously, the most intelligent data structures imitate the tree. When organizing family histories, the internet, and knowledge in general, the tree becomes the most appropriate resulting diagram – unfortunately it is often squashed down into two-dimensions and rendered useless.
Triumphantly, we are trees. Our toes, feet, and legs are our roots. Our trunks are.. well, our trunks. And our arms, hands and fingers branch out, probing into the world. They allow us to produce, obtain, and consume energy.
We lack the chloroplasts of the tree, which makes us unable to sufficiently synthesize enough energy from the sun without also eating. But like most forms of life, we have melanin to protect our sensitive bodies from the sun's radiation. With the proper amount of sunlight, the melatonin hormone within us helps us to be happier, healthier, and more radiant people. Hence Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the ridiculously acronymed “disease” that occurs when a human does not spend enough time outside.
But unlike the tree, we can pull up our roots – our support structures – and plant ourselves all over the world. Some people are of hardier strains, with more fully developed brains containing many branches and roots. These humans are much like the hemp plant, incredibly useful, abhorred by big corporations, and able to flourish in even the harshest of conditions.
But of course with the Tree of Life comes the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Macbeth was right to worry when 'Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane'. The wizard Sarumon could not stand the onslaught of Ent tree-herders angered out of Fanghorn Forest. Have you never seen a tree with eyes?
They are full of power and force, and yet we take them for granted in our daily lives.
I wonder: what would the wind be like if there were no trees to give it life and voice? and will the Cradle drop?