Resisting the Urge to Shake the Tree


Saturday morning I went for a walk. It was a magnificently beautiful day; early autumn, yet mildly warm with a light breeze. I was taken by the gentle way the leaves fell from the trees.

The thought occurred to me that this would be wonderful to videotape. I walked home and got my video camera. Returning to the spot I set up the camera and waited.

All of a sudden the leaves were falling at an excruciatingly slow rate and I had the urge to shake the tree so I could get better video (more dynamic and more interesting).

But this gave me pause to think.... Isn't this what we, as humans, always do? We shake the tree. We mold the world to what we want it to be. If something is not to our liking we change it, bend it, shape it, cut it, form it, force it, or shake it, and well you get the picture. All day long millions of us are shaking the tree. Should we be? Do we really have to?

I decided to sit back and just experience things as the camera rolled and captured the occasional leaf as it fell to the ground.

I noticed the trees and I really looked at them and some thoughts came to me.

This is a large group of forty or fifty trees in a little area of the city and many of them have been around for a hundred years or more. I imagined they might be friends. A group of friends who have known each other for many years. Each one keeping enough distance from the others so it could gather sunlight yet close enough so their roots could reach out to each other and talk in that quiet slow talk that only trees know.

Through their roots I imagined they all knew each other and cared for each other. Through their slow and gentle tree root talk they all knew that Molly was having a lot of trouble with squirrels and that Jacob definitely had the most beautiful blossom of leaves this summer. They all mourned the loss of Edgar who was one of the oldest and now only a big hollowed out shell of dead wood. Yet they all awaited with tree-lke patience as the circle continued and they knew that another young tree would eventually take his place.

I continued to watch and continued to let my mind be open and I watched as the leaves fell gently from trees. And it seemed to me that they were taking turns. With one gust it was this tree, with another gust it was another tree; and I spent some time moving the camera from tree to tree in order to capture the best leaf falls.

It felt like the trees were playing a trick on me. "Let's take turns" they were saying. And they were taking turns. The largest trees were already leaf bare and prepared for winter. And right now the mid sized trees were taking turns dropping a few leaves with the gusts.

I imagined their root talk. The oldest trees got to express their leaf dropping joy first and that was pretty much finished. Now the middle-aged trees were agreeing among themselves through their root talking who would drop at the next gust. I imagined Molly saying "Please Please, let me go next. The squirrels are irritating me so much today".

The trees continued their root talk and continued taking turns dropping their leaves and I took a look at old Edgar who was nothing more than a twelve foot high hollowed out stump. And I thought to myself. "Wouldn't it be wonderful if I cut him down and planted a new tree there? The group would rejoice at the new friend and eagerly await its roots to grow so they could talk to it and welcome it to their century old group.


Two Days Later

It was a monday morning and I was running late for my morning jog. It was about six thirty which meant I was already off by about half an hour. It was feeling like rain so I rushed a bit because I wanted to get it in without getting soaked. I, of course, ran to my favorite group of trees.

As I made my leisurely jog through them I made laps and on one of my laps as I approached Edgar who was just a hollowed out twelve foot high stump, I heard a noise in one of his lifeless branches. I looked up and stopped; my heavy breathing betraying me to what I saw. It was a large bird of prey that had just swooped down into Edgar's branches and struggled with something that it caught. It paused and looked me over real good while I tried to quiet my breathing. It stared at me and I at it while it assessed what kind of a risk I was. I stood motionless for a long pause and it returned to what it had caught, repositioned its talons on it then with one big flap it launched from the tree carrying its prey underneath it. I stood mesmerized at what had happened and I learned a very valuable lesson.


The Real lesson learned

In this essay I talked about not shaking the trees and I think that a pretty bright observation. Yet I still fell into the human trap of wanting to shake the tree. Didn't I think, in my caring and smartness that I wanted to cut Edgar down and plant a new tree there? Maybe I am not as bright as I think. Or more human that I will admit.

Because that's just another variation of tree shaking. Edgar, in his passing, still serves a wonderful purpose in the community of trees. His leaf bare branches are home to lots of insects who are slowly taking him down and who are food to many of the smaller animals. His hollowed out trunk is a warm and comfortable home for squirrels, chipmunks, and other small creatures. And his location in the group is well known to the birds of prey because it is a rich hunting ground.

You see, Edgar still fills a role and all the other trees know it. They watch and wait patiently talking to each other in their centuries old root talk as each patiently awaits its turn to drop a few leaves.

As for me, I learned a real lesson over the course of three days. And with this gust of wind I feel it is my turn and I am reaching out my roots to you and joyously teaching you what I learned.