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The Gift of Trees

Huge, tall and rounded pine tree stands by entrance to Animas Valley Mall in Farmington, NM
Pine tree at Animas Valley Mall in Farmington, NM.

The next time you're driving along a busy street through town, notice the nearby trees. They line sidewalks, provide shade in parking lots, and add beauty to people's yards.

 

It can be hard to notice them when you're creeping through heavy traffic, worried about getting to work on time, picking up your child from piano lessons, or making it to a doctor's appointment. Those frustrating, irritating, stressful moments are sometimes the best time to notice trees.

 

The shopping mall in my town has a lot of trees. They provide boundaries between roadways and business parking lots. They make certain parking spots look inviting because they protect vehicles from the hot sun. Their decorative leaves lace the air with intricate designs. Blossoming trees perfume the air and splash color with artistic flair.

 

You may only have a second to notice a tall, majestic pine tree spreading its branches before the traffic light turns green. You press the gas pedal as your vehicle springs forward, never noticing pine cones that decorate grass around the tree.

 

Your eyes may barely catch the small stately tree with leaves that grace the sky like a finely embroidered shawl. In your quest to get to your destination on time, you will pass dozens, even hundreds of trees, all filling the sky line with their own unique beauty.

 

What would we do without trees? We hardly think about them or about the care it takes to keep them healthy. Once in a long while we might catch a glimpse of lovely trees along the sidewalk as we park our car and hurry into the grocery store.

 

Trees are a constant gift to us. When we notice them, our lives feel a little richer and a bit less stressed.

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Photograph Trees and Get Exercise too!

The short trunk on this cottonwood supports many large and uniquely shaped branches.
Cottonwood with many uniquely shaped branches.

Now that Thanksgiving is over and some of us may have gained a pound or two after feasting on turkey and all the trimmings, it might be fun and healthy to get some extra exercise.

 

Recently, I took a walk along the beautiful walkway that follows the Animas River through Farmington, NM, the city in which I live. It was great exercise, and I found some trees with unusual shapes. I snapped a few pictures of them. It's been fun to look at those pictures and remind myself of the trees' artistic shapes.

 

If you'd like to explore some areas near where you live, grab your camera or iPhone, put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and bundle up if you live where it's cold. Then drive to places where there are quite a few trees. Take a walk through each area and enjoy the trees that you find. Take pictures of the ones with the most unusual shapes.

 

Some trees have a typical tree shape that includes a trunk and branches that grow upward from it toward the sky. But sometimes trees have taken on different shapes. Maybe they have several trunks with lots of branches spilling everywhere. Or maybe some of the branches have twisted into creative shapes.

 

When you find trees with unusual shapes, take a picture of each of them. Then make up a name for each tree so you can identify it later. Making up names for the trees can be almost as much fun as taking pictures of them.

 

Once you're back home, take a look at your photos. Decide which ones look so unique that you'd like to have prints made of them. Once you have the prints, choose a few that you'd like to hang in your house. Buy frames for the prints. Then have fun fitting each picture into the frame that suits it best. Find the right place to hang each one in your house.

 

If your pictures are good enough, consider entering them into a local photography contest. If you win a prize or if someone decides to buy your photo, consider it a sign that you have the talent to keep taking and displaying unique pictures.

 

Have fun hiking, taking photos, and losing a few pounds after the Thanksgiving feast!

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Riverside Nature Center Herb Garden

This shumard oak is among many trees, herbs and grasses identified by plaques at the Riverside Nature Center's herb garden in Farmington, New Mexico.
Shumard oak at the Riverside Nature Center's herb garden.

The city of Farmington, New Mexico, has a wonderful herb garden at the Riverside Nature Center. There are lots of herbs, grasses and trees growing there, and all are identified with special plaques. Other cities may have similar resources as well. If you live somewhere else, ask the local Chamber of Commerce or visitors center if your city has something like it.

 

If you live in or near Farmington and want a peaceful, enjoyable and educational place to take family, friends or visitors, the Riverside Nature Center is a great place to go. And it's free! Turn off Browning Parkway into the municipal complex that contains some city offices, the regional animal shelter and the Riverside Nature Center. Follow the signs to a parking lot near the nature center. Don't be surprised if you see deer or chickens walking near the trail.

 

At the center, you can ask for a handout of all the herbs growing in the herb garden. There's a xeriscape garden nearby too. The handout even has recipes for making an herb blend and one that combines tomatoes with a variety of herbs. There's a recipe for lavender-lemon cookies and another one for apricot lavender jam. You will see some different kinds of lavender growing in the herb garden.

 

Plan to spend an hour or more walking among the herbs, grasses and trees that grow in the herb garden. There is a lot to see! Well-marked trails take you on pathways through the garden. If you get tired, there are tables and benches not far away where you can rest.

 

When some friends and I recently toured the herb garden, we felt so relaxed. Being near all that natural beauty has a way of calming you.

 

A visit to the herb garden gets even better if you add a visit to the nature center itself. It's in a building with lots of exhibits and even has some interactive things to do. You can select some mementoes of your trip at the gift shop. Sometimes you'll find used books at a very cheap price there. For more information, call the center at 505-599-1422.

 

If you want to stay a little longer, head over to the nearby regional animal shelter. Ask if you can take one of the dogs for a walk. The shelter relies on volunteers to help them walk the dogs waiting for someone to adopt them. The animal shelter is not far from the Animas River, where there are wonderful walkways built along the river. They meander near the water for a few miles through town.

 

If you're looking for something to do this month when the weather is still comfortably cool, try the nature center and its surroundings. It's an activity that your whole family can enjoy together.

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What Helps You Know Spring Is Coming?

As I trimmed a rose bush in my back yard this week so it will be ready for warmer spring weather, I looked at other plants outside my house. Were buds starting to swell yet? No, it still isn't time for bushes and trees to start blooming in the area where I live. But as the weeks progress and the weather slowly starts to warm, they will sense that warming up time. When their intricate inner mechanisms tell them that blooming season has arrived, it will be time for buds to swell, for fruit trees to start the blooming process, for grass to green up, and for the neighborhood to sparkle with color.

 

If trees and bushes and other plants can tell when it's time for spring, how do we know that spring is coming? Do we also have an inner clock? Does something tell us warmer weather is on the way even while we still bundle up in our sweaters and jackets?

 

I imagine that we each have our own ways of telling when spring is on its way. Not only can we see that the thermometer is slowly climbing into higher digits, but we notice it doesn't take quite so many layers of clothing to stay warm outside.

 

Perhaps, like the plants, we have an inner mechanism that tell us when spring is coming too. Do we start to feel a little more excited? Now that January is finally over, does it seem like spring is less far away?  Do we feel the anticipation of warmer weather, of working in the garden, of playing with friends outside in weather that doesn't make our cheeks turn red with cold?

 

Here's a thought. If you could draw a picture of what your inner mechanism of spring's approach looks like inside of you, what would you draw? Would you draw a hidden away switch somewhere between your heart and your brain? Or would you draw something you can see outside of yourself? Would you draw yourself standing beside a bush surrounded by snow that holds its head high with the hope of spring? Would you draw a picture of your dog rolling joyfully on its back in grass still yellow with winter's sleep?

 

If you do decide to draw such a picture, once you're done, talk about it with your family. Ask how they sense that spring is coming. Hang your picture up in your room or on the refrigerator, or show it to your friends and ask them what their inner spring sensor looks like. You all will likely have different ideas to share. Have fun!

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How to find peace of mind

People walk among trees near river
Walking among trees near the Animas River in Farmington, NM

As we faced on January 6 perhaps the most dangerous challenge to our country we had ever experienced, when domestic terrorists tried to stop the United States Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes that confirmed the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden, we found ourselves in different locations, different frames of mind, and different levels of emotion.

 

How do we get past that? How do we become a united country again? How do we continue to function with some peace of mind?

 

The people lawfully appointed to handle justice will determine what happens to those domestic terrorists, but how do we carry on? How do we find the peace of mind to perform our daily tasks?

 

Those of us who have developed some proficiency with prayer and/or meditation can turn to that. But not all of us are very adept at prayer or meditation.

 

In those times of agitation, fear, anger, or confusion, it can be helpful to find a place nearby where there are quite a few trees. Take a walk among those trees. As you walk, try to calm yourself by noticing details about the trees – the texture of their bark, the shape of their leaves, how tall they grow, how wide they spread their branches.

 

When you notice such things, you are starting to take your mind off of other things. One of the first steps to practicing prayer or meditation is to take your focus off of those other things and place them on getting into a state of quiet contemplation.

 

That first step can be so hard it may seem impossible. But persevere. See the trees as allies in your efforts to gain a sense of calm. As you keep at it, you may notice that your breathing slows and your mind quits churning quite so much.

 

Give yourself enough time as you walk among the trees to sense that you are calming down. You are beginning to find a sense of peace.

 

Though walking among trees is not the only way to find a calmer, more peaceful frame of mind, it can be quite effective. Whatever works best for you, see if you can practice it a little bit every day. When you do, you will find that peace and calmness stay with you longer, even when you find yourself in difficult circumstances.

 

May you find the way that works best for you and keep practicing it. The more people who do that, the more our efforts will help to expand calm and peace all around the world. Then, when we face dangerous challenges, negative emotions and attitudes will have less of an impact.

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Keeping Hope Alive

Cottonwood tree shelters a tent
Tent under a cottonwood tree in Simon Canyon, northwest New Mexico

As we venture into 2021, coming out of 2020 full of grief, worry, frustration and a boatload of other emotions, it can be hard to feel hopeful.

 

Even so, there are reasons to keep our hope alive and to look forward to positive change. When I worry that more people I know could get very sick with Covid-19 and its emerging virus strains, I think about trees.

 

What could trees teach us? They have weathered all kinds of challenges, from invasive beetles to the possibility of being cut down, and they've faced a whole host of other threats from many different sources. What keeps them going?

 

They are rooted to one spot. They can't run away from danger. But they can draw on strengths. They change their behavior as needed to stay healthy.

 

In the winter, trees go dormant. As some animals hibernate during the winter, trees slow down their metabolism. That helps them to conserve the food they have stored. They want it to last since they don't make food in the winter. That's the season when they slow down their energy consumption and growth. Many trees shed their leaves in the winter because they don't need the leaves to help them form simple sugar, their kind of food, in the presence of sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. That sugar helps to give them energy, but in winter they take a rest.

 

Just as trees go into a dormant state during the winter, in this time of Covid-19, we need to slow down our activities by staying indoors more, not gathering in large groups, and shopping in stores only for essentials. If we wear masks, keep at least six feet from other people, and wash our hands frequently, we also reduce the chance of getting the virus. Those are all activities that slow us down and make us practice different behavior than we normally would. It can be frustrating and downright maddening to have to change our behaviors. But it gives us and others a better chance to remain healthy.

 

Trees know how to be dormant. They do it naturally. They slow their activity level to stay healthy during the winter. If trees can adjust their behavior during winter to keep themselves safe, perhaps it doesn't seem quite so limiting to adjust our behavior too.

 

Trees also do something called respiration. In this process, they convert energy stored in the form of glucose, the sugar that leaves and sunlight produce during photosynthesis. That energy is needed to carry out the tree's metabolic reactions, which occur even in winter. During respiration, carbon dioxide oozes through the trees' pores. Carbon dioxide is essential to create the energy trees need to keep themselves healthy. They get a lot of that carbon dioxide from animals, including humans, when we breathe out that gas. In return, trees give off oxygen, which is toxic to them, but we would die without enough of it.

 

No matter how challenging life may be for them at times, trees continue to create the carbon

dioxide they need and to get rid of the oxygen that we need. If they didn't keep doing what they need to do to survive, we wouldn't be able to survive ourselves.

 

When I look at trees, I don't often think about the chemical reactions that happen within them. I just enjoy their beauty, the shade their provide, and the habitat they offer for birds and other critters.

 

I'm glad trees remain committed to doing what comes naturally to survive. It helps me think that, even though it's not easy to wear a mask, social distance, and wash my hands often, it is helping to give me and others a better chance to stay healthy. That gives me hope.

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Meditating among Trees When You Face Troubling Times

Cottonwood grows near irrigation ditch bank
Cottonwood tree

If you are struggling with an issue in your life that weighs you down or stresses you almost beyond your ability to cope, take time to visit the trees you have come to appreciate. Many of them may be in your yard or around your neighborhood.

 

When you get to one of those trees, stand near it. Quiet your mind as much as you can and focus on the tree. Notice the texture of its bark. Touch the bark to sense how it feels to your hands. Is it rough, smooth, lumpy? Look higher up into the tree. Trace the branches with your eyes. Notice how the twigs and any remaining leaves that have not fallen attach to the branches and spread beyond them.

 

Do you see any nests in the tree, any birds perched there, perhaps squawking at you for standing so close to the tree? Are there any other wildlife? Once I saw a porcupine perched in a tall cottonwood. Another time I saw a snake winding its way up the trunk of a tree toward a bird's nest containing, it hoped, eggs to eat.

 

Then bring your gaze back down to the base of the tree. Notice the roots, how they splay out from the tree trunk and bury themselves into the ground, forming a strong, sturdy base for the tree. Imagine what it would be like for you to let strong pillars of support flow from your feet deep into the earth, letting the planet nurture you and help you feel stronger.

 

Once you feel well grounded as you enjoy that connection you have forged with the earth, stand quietly as you feel strength flow into you. Look up into the tree again. If you feel so inclined, say a prayer of blessing, gratitude or encouragement for it.

 

As you feel calmness resting like a warm, comfortable cloak around you, listen to impressions that go beyond the sounds of branches brushing against each other in a gentle breeze, beyond the rustle of dried leaves on the ground as a squirrel passes by. In that quietness that takes you into a place deep within yourself, listen for any impressions that come to your mind.

 

You may become aware of an encouraging thought, a supportive idea, a phrase to cling to when life seems too difficult, too overwhelming, too confusing. You may feel filled with love so deep that it fills you up and overflows in tears of joy.

 

Is the thought coming from the tree? Is it coming from the greater wisdom within you, from the divine presence that always surrounds you even when you forget it's there? You don't have to figure out where it's coming from. Just notice the message, repeat it so that you don't forget it, and thank the tree for helping you find your way into a meditative state that allowed that thought to give you the strength, courage and stamina to carry on.

 

When you feel ready, say goodbye to the tree and head back to your life full of challenges. No matter what you face, remember the message, the sense of love or joy that filled you with hope and strength. Carry it like a treasure in your mind and repeat it as often as you need to. Write it down somewhere so that in the coming days, when you need it most and have a hard time recalling it, you can find it and be strengthened once again by its powerful message.

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Reduce Stress by Walking Near Trees

Trees and the sound of a peaceful river create calmness
Trees along a river

When you feel stressed, sit under a tree or walk near where there are trees. Without a doubt, in these post-election moments, we have an extra need for stress reducing activities.

 

Focus on the trees. Notice their bark, branches, needles or leaves, the way they sway in a gentle breeze. Hear the sounds they make such as rustling leaves or branches rubbing against each other. Listen to the birds as they flit from branch to branch, then race off to find a different tree or land in the grass to eat seeds, worms, and insects. Feel the smooth or rough consistency of tree bark as you run your hands along their trunks.

 

Once you've experienced all those sensory details while immersing yourself in the experience of being around trees, you may discover that you feel calmer, a little happier. Maybe you feel less stressed over what's going on in the world around you. Though you may worry about what's happening, there is seldom much you can do about it.

 

Never underestimate the healing power of your time around trees and other aspects of nature. Being surrounded by trees, bushes, flowers, and bodies of water helps to heal us. That may be one reason some of us like to garden and why we feel sad when gardening season is over.

 

Connecting with nature not only has a way of bringing healing calmness to is, but it encourages us to take care of ourselves better by walking more. Walking also helps to boost our creativity. Getting your exercise on a treadmill may be good exercise, but walking in nature does something extra to activate creative ideas. It triggers our brains to blossom with all kinds of positive impressions.

 

If you have a dog, when you need to generate new ideas, take your dog for a walk. It will benefit both of you. Your dog will love it, and you will prime your wellspring of ideas to gush like a fountain.

 

These days, as we've gone through the long season leading up to elections and are now in the post-election season with all its temporary uncertainties, we need more than ever to take time for walking. If you can walk among trees and other beautiful aspects of nature, your stress will slide away more easily. So take a walk, and let go of stress. You deserve to feel good!

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When You Face Change, Take a Lesson from Trees

Mulberry tree in neighbor's yard

I joined two neighborhood friends in the front yard of one of their homes. We sat under a huge mulberry tree whose big green leaves spread over much of the front yard.

 

"When the leaves of the mulberry fall this autumn," the owner said, "they fall all at once. One day they're there, and the next day, they're on the ground."

 

Just as all of us humans are different and handle the changing seasons in our own ways, so trees have their own way of letting go of the leaves of spring and summer to step into autumn and winter. For them, it's built into their tree-ness to handle leaf shedding based on signals they get from nature.

 

For us, when we face change, whether it's seasonal change or a change in our life circumstances – a change in jobs, the loss of a loved one, a move from one place to another, a different way of doing something familiar – we often get our signals from our own fear or apprehension of facing something different.

 

Will we like the new job, can we handle the tasks, will other people on the job accept and respect us? How can we survive without the person we lost? Will we ever get over the grief, the loneliness, the sudden change of almost every detail of our life? Will the place we're moving to be a pleasant one surrounded by the activities and the kinds of people that we have come to expect? Why does someone want to do a particular task in a different way when we can see there is only one sensible way to handle it?

 

When we face change, we recognize the need to take one step at a time through all the aspects of adjusting to that change. There's no easy way to do it. We just have to move through it, putting one foot in front of the other with determination.

 

No matter how hard the change in life circumstances seem, we can look to trees for inspiration. No matter what happens to trees – a seasonal change, the beginning of life as a young sprout or the end of life as a dying tree – they find a way to support each other. The stump of a cut down tree continues to be nurtured by trees around it so that it remains alive. A young sprout finds itself in the protective shade of a larger tree. No matter what the seasonal change, trees see in other trees that the change is handled with innate wisdom.

 

As trees prepare to move into the changes brought about by cooler weather, how can we as family, friends, and neighbors help each other face changes that inevitably come to us at one time or another? A kind word, a visit, sharing a chore, keeping in touch with someone who has moved away, a smile – the simplest things help to make life a little easier during change.

 

As you notice trees changing this fall season, remember that change is easier when we let people know they're not alone. Mother Teresa once told people who wanted to contribute financially to her ministry that, instead, they should take time to let people in their own community know they are not alone. We're all in this together, the trees and us, and we handle change better when we know others are encouraging and supporting our various journeys.

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Gardens and Trees Unite Us

Cottonwood with three trunks

I have a little backyard garden where I grow tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, asparagus, sweet red peppers, beets and carrots. It has been fun sharing some of my bounty with neighbors. The young neighbor family whose backyard abuts my backyard, is fun to interact with. They have two preschool kids who get so excited when I give each of them a carrot or a tomato. Sometimes their dad sends them to the fence between our yards with a couple of sweet juicy apples from one of their trees.

 

I sometimes think about that apple tree and how it and my garden have become a sharing conduit between my neighbors and myself. How wonderful that we can still be connected in ways that help us all feel cared about and appreciated.

 

I walked with friends today through the neighborhood for exercise. Seeing so many trees along the way made our walk even more beautiful and provided shade when we needed it. Trees have so much to offer us. I wanted to capture some of what they can provide in my book, Healing with Trees: Finding a Path to Wholeness. When people see me around town, they sometimes make a special effort to tell me how much that book means to them.

 

Trees have so much to offer, and I am delighted when people discover they too can have a connection with trees. People may enjoy a shady spot under tree branches to rest in. Or they may sense a welcoming feeling coming from certain trees. It can be an adventure to notice trees as you take a walk. One thing most people notice is how many trees there are all around us. It's fun to see what happens as you acknowledge the trees you pass and appreciate their beauty.

 

Sometimes that focus on trees and other plants can create a connection between you and a neighbor or someone you didn't know before. As I discovered with my garden and my neighbor's apple tree, trees and other plants have a way of helping us reach out to each other as we create loving community connections.

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