Written on November 22, 2019
Let no one say that I lived in the ponderosa pine forest and failed to notice.
Today I went out and stood beneath thick pillows of wet snow and let the cold mist cover my face. I gazed into the jeweled kingdom of old stately pines and took dozens of pics with my cell phone as the late afternoon sunlight angled across the mountain slope lighting up a thousand pine needle tips. I opened my mouth to taste the bright green quivering bough sparkling with the dew of snowmelt. I inhaled the impossible clarity of pine air and hiked around with the dogs until my feet were cold.
I got lost on our ten acres today and found myself in snow up to my knees in the sandy arroyo where the desert willows grow. Suddenly I made out the petite leafless willows bent by the weight of wet snow. I saw behind them one of the oldest ponderosas on our property. I have come here often to sit and lean my back against that tree, someone so much older and wiser than I will ever be. Its girth is too large for me to wrap my arms around. Its reach is too high to comprehend. Its crown, scraping the low scuttle of snow clouds, ripples in the west wind but remains steady against the stony incline to the summit.
Today I embrace this four-hundred-year old ponderosa at the far back of the property, at the bottom of the arroyo. I look up into her branches, press my belly against her sturdy trunk and breathe. Beneath my feet the forest speaks through the microbiology of exchange. Root and soil and water in mutual co-existence speak with each other in the language of give and take, of connection and ongoing. Here in this old growth parcel near the national forest boundary the forest flourishes. Researchers have shown how each tree communicates with every other tree. And the research also shows how much we benefit from being in the forest, especially pine forests, forest-bathing, or as the Japanese call it, shinrin yoku. I can feel the trees settling my over-stimulated nervous system, decreasing angst and anxiety, allowing me to slow down and feel myself as part and partner with the forest.
I feel the wildness. A cougar could be nearby, a bear, coyote, fox, a family of elk. I listen. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I call the dogs who have wandered off somewhere on the other side of the tangled barbed wire fence. They come trotting back. Loyal friends. I get up and we keep going, deeper into the woods. I am happy. I love being outside with the trees.
Let no one say I didn’t stop what I was doing and go outside. I left the bills and the banking, the email and the texting, the cooking and the cleaning, my duties as college president and the pundits’ non-stop chatter about impeachment. I care about those things, but I leave them behind to go outside and walk in the ponderosa pine forest before it is too late.
Nature gives us everything we need – air, water, soil, sunlight, pollinators, food, clothing, medicine, musical instruments, homes, our flesh and bones and hearts and minds – and what do we give it in return? Our gratitude, our attention, our sense of wonder, our love. Step away from the busyness, get outside and breathe.
Let no one say we failed to notice. Here we are, alive, amidst the beauty. Take time to go and be among trees. Notice them and stand in relation to them whether you are in the backyard, in a city park, in a national forest. The research shows our nervous systems benefit by proximity to trees. Go experience their beauty. As the powerful Navajo/Diné prayer reminds us, we walk in beauty.
Beauty before me
Beauty behind me
Beauty above me
Beauty below me
Beauty within me
Beauty all around me