Aged and Ageless: How to Be Like a Tree



“Aged and Ageless” A Sciku of Trees:

I don’t want to live In a world without real trees. Without role models —

Botanical friends That teach me, by example. How to live and thrive

In a scary world. How to grow up fearlessly Rooted and reaching, Twisting instead of Breaking. Sucking up toxins And giving back joy. Laughing with the sky, Coexisting with the earth, Dancing with seasons. Gifting leaves of green, Red, gold, bronze. Nuts. Buds. Bark. Cones. The scent of flowers. Watching the wide world, Eon after eon and Staying strong, grounded. Never despairing. Always believing in growth. Optimistic. Good. Undaunted. Even at the age of one thousand, Trees keep on giving. Not immortal, but Constant. Steadfast. Natural. Worthy of our love. I don’t want to live In a world without trees, Bereft of beauty.


The oldest living organism on earth

You may have heard of an old guy named Methuselah. He was 969 years old when he died, but even the oldest human mentioned can’t hold a candle (or a birthday candle) to a tree. No other organism on earth, (with the exception of the antarctic glass sponge) lives longer than a tree.

A fig tree in Sri Lanka, one considered sacred, is more than twenty-two hundred years old. Giant sequoia trees in the redwood forests of California range between 2000–3000 years old. In Chile, a cypress tree has lived 3627 years. And those two trees are young saplings compared to the ancient trees in the White Mountains of California where several bristlecone pine trees have survived through five millenniums. One tree, nicknamed Methuselah, is 4850 years old. In that same area, other trees exist that are almost as old, and the most ancient tree of all is also a bristlecone pine that has celebrated 5067 birthdays. Think about that. On the North American continent, trees exist now that were here during the Stone Age.

Tree-Reading

My dad loved nature and taught me to see the beauty of trees, but I also learned to love trees through reading. An early fascination with them began with Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book, The Little Prince, and its lovely illustration of the Baobab tree.

Original illustration of the baobab tree in my 1977 edition of The Little Prince

At the time, I didn’t even know that Baobab trees existed and thought they were a complete fabrication of Saint-Exupery’s imagination.

Not so. Baobab trees are real. They’re also known as “The Tree of Life,” primarily because of their fruit which is easy to harvest, loaded with vitamin C, and replete with medicinal uses. It would take several volumes of work to catalog the literary works that have depended on trees for plot or storyline, but my childhood memory sparkles with pictures of the treehouse in Swiss Family Robinson, the horrifying, mean trees in The Wizard of Oz, and the Ents in The Hobbit. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Giving Tree, The Wind in the Willows, The Bean Trees, Desire Under the Elms…the list goes on and on. A masterpiece of tree literature is Richard Powers’ The Overstory, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2018, and I loved for its combination of “science and soul.”

The Poetry of Trees

Words about trees spring up like saplings in my brain at the oddest times, swaying as my poetry-loving grandfather’s soft tenor crooning, “Under the spreading chestnut tree, the village smithy stands…” and “I think that I shall never see, a poem lovely as a tree.” I remember him talking about “Birches,” not really understanding he was talking about Robert Frost’s poem when he said,

“I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree, And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk Toward heaven…”

My all-time favorite tree poem is by Walt Whitman: “I Saw In Louisiana a Live Oak Growing.” “I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing, All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches, Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself, But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not…

(Isn’t the phrase, “uttering joyous leaves of dark green” an amazing feat of word-working?)

Teach me, O Tree Mentor

I don’t want to live without trees. I want to learn from them. So many lessons to be learned from trees…

“I love looking at you, hundred-year-old tree, loaded with shoots and boughs as though you were a stripling. Teach me the secret of growing old like you, open to life, to youth, to dreams, as somebody aware that youth and age are merely steps towards eternity.” — Hélder Câmara

Let’s keep them around. Every year, we’re losing 8.3 million acres of global forests. Every six seconds, the rainforests lose an entire soccer field of trees.

We need trees, aged and ageless, giving and gracious, shading and sheltering.

Without them, the world would be bereft of beauty.

Photo by Simone Dalmeri on Unsplash


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