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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Just an Observation on Trees

I was on my way home from work one afternoon, sitting at the back of the bus as it descended the big hill into the Guildwood neighbourhood; a neighbourhood close to the lake with a park and tree lined streets, a neighbourhood, which, perhaps ironically, plays a crucial role in my book series. For the first time in a while, I was not looking at the lake views. Instead, my focus was on the trees as the bus drove by them.
Have you ever noticed how much a tree looks like a human figure with their arms raised to the sky, fingers splayed out? I didn’t either until that moment. But if you look closely, you will see it; many different sizes and layouts if you will. The trunk can be either the body from the neck down or the armpits down (depending on what the tree looks like), where the tree forks there are two arms or perhaps a leg stretched out in a perpetual dance and the branches and twigs upon which the foliage grows are splayed fingers or toes. To me, this makes sense.


Throughout history there have been ample accounts of tree spirits – Dryads and other Tree Nymphs in Greek Mythology, the Ghille Dhu of Celtic lore, the Japanese have the Kodama – and countless more regarding the Tree of Life. Each culture has a version of it, the most famous of which, is Yggdrasil, a massive Ash tree that connected the three main worlds of Asgard, Midgard and Niflheim three of a total of nine in the whole cosmology of Norse Mythology. The Celtics also have several trees that were (and most likely still are) considered special – the Oak, Heather and Willow to name a few. The Greeks and Celtics possibly adapted Yggdrasil to form their own mythologies – this is more probable for the Celtics, however, since Great Britain was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons in 5th Century CE. The Ghille Dhu may be a by-product of both local beliefs and the years spent under the Roman Empire.

But I digress. The more I looked at the natural figures, the more I wondered if that was how many tree deities came to life or if there really is truth to the myths and spirits reside within the bark and leaves. Now, the people who know me best will know that there are many things I believe in, and Tree Nymphs and Nature Spirits are one of them, however, for the sake of this blog, I am going to try and play devil’s advocate and stay neutral; how well it will work, I do not know. But, nevertheless, I am going to try.

Going on the looks of trees, and the similarity to a human figure, it is more than possible that the Tree Nymphs of Greek, the Kodama of Japanese and the Ghille Dhu of Celtic cultures came out of this appearance. Or perhaps the Native American belief that everything on Earth has a spirit from the person down to the stones and pebbles they walked on, and that included the trees. And it makes sense; trees are living things, they are constantly growing, changing and they come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are tiny like a Bonsai, others are tall and straight like the Ash, others are knotty like the Pine, while others are bent and crooked like a Douglas Fir and others are giants like the Redwoods of the West Coasts of Canada and the US. In a way, you could say that the trees are like people, coming in many different shapes and sizes. Perhaps our very early ancestors saw this and believed spirits resided within or that they could come to life. The latter of this is seen a lot in Literature, predominately in the worlds of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and CS Lewis’s Narnia. Perhaps they saw the similarity between trees and humans and each decided to incorporate them into their Literature.

I could also go the scientific route and touch on the idea of evolution. I will do this briefly with the limited knowledge I have on this subject. If one believes evolution, then we evolved from algae – plant material – so in one regard, we evolved from the stuff that makes up trees... we came from trees. Or one could believe in the Big Bang Theory, and that everything on Earth evolved from space dust and the trees, grass and plants evolved before we did. Perhaps that explains it? Maybe we actually came from trees. That would explain the similarities. Personally though, I like to believe the spirit theory. But you can believe what you wish.

If I go back to the Spirit theory for a moment, maybe the Spirits influenced the design of the trees, making them almost in the image of the spirits themselves. If you look at images of Tree Nymphs, and the Ghille Dhu they are very human-esque. This may be from the Greeks and Celtics making a representation that made sense to them. But nonetheless, for many, this was a reality and why our ancestors held such high regard for the trees around them. It’s a shame many in today’s world don’t hold the same regard. Trees, in ancient times were sacred because they a, provided the supplies to make their homes and towns and b, were the homes of Tree Nymphs and Ghille Dhu and other spirits of the other civilizations. It’s sad that today’s society, in general, does not view the trees in their neighbourhood the same way. In my city of Toronto, if you look at it from the top of the CN Tower, every neighbourhood has trees, even downtown streets. I used to work at the CN Tower and while there, encountered a lot of tourists that came in, looked at the city and couldn’t believe how green it is in the summer. That makes me proud of my city and gives me the idea that maybe, just maybe, if there are Nymphs within the trees they are happy that many of their homes have remained in the city. Unfortunately, urban sprawl has claimed the lives of many more outside the city limits.

But again, I digress. The next time you drive or walk down a tree-lined street or take a stroll through a wooded park, take a closer look at the figures you’re walking by and see if you can see a similarity between you and the tree. It may make you think about them just a little differently. It did me.