Heart of the Tree

Ever since our remote human ancestors first swung down from the African treetops, we’ve shared a deep connection with trees. In a sense, humankind was born in trees, and since then, almost every culture worldwide has featured trees in their stories of Life and the Cosmos.

I think winter is a good time to contemplate trees. Leafless, they seem to display even more of their individual character with twisting trunks and gnarled bark, and seen through a maze of twigs, the dull gray sky is transformed into a fascinating, complex design.

Yesterday, as I walked through my neighborhood, I was struck by the beauty of this English Walnut. It’s one of the biggest trees in the area and I suspect it was planted in the early 1900s, probably soon after this section was cleared of its native Douglas firs and hemlocks. It was probably a sapling when my house was built in 1907.

English Walnut is actually a native of Central Asia, brought to Europe by Alexander the Great. This one seems to have come with its own Dryad. When I imported this photo into Photoshop and applied a filter, I was startled at the image that emerged. I highlighted it a bit with the dodge and burn tools and voila! The tree-spirit of Walnut Avenue!

English Walnut is actually a native of Central Asia, brought to Europe by Alexander the Great. This one seems to have come with its own Dryad. When I imported my photo into Photoshop and applied a filter, I was startled at the image that emerged. I highlighted it a bit with the dodge and burn tools and voila! The tree-spirit of Walnut Avenue!

 

In honor of those who planted this tree—and those who have nurtured and preserved it—here is a poem by Henry Cuyler Bunner, published in 1893 in The Century Magazine:

(and thanks to my mother for sharing this beautiful poem with me—recited from memory!)

The Heart of the Tree

 

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants a friend of sun and sky;

He plants the flag of breezes free;

The shaft of beauty, towering high;

He plants a home to heaven anigh;

For song and mother-croon of bird

In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven’s harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

 

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants cool shade and tender rain,

And seed and bud of days to be,

And years that fade and flush again;

He plants the glory of the plain;

He plants the forest’s heritage;

The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.

 

What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

And far-cast thought of civic good—

His blessings on the neighborhood,

Who in the hollow of His hand

Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation’s growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.

-Henry Cuyler Bunner, 1885 – 1896

 

 

9 thoughts on “Heart of the Tree

  1. I thought I had heard about all the authors who wrote like this. But not until I watched a re-run recently of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ had I heard this poem. Beaver recited it. It was very moving so I had to see who wrote it; I ended up here.
    We have two old walnut trees, massive but not tall. I love your photo.
    Thank you.
    Alice Kidd

    • Thanks, Alice! I’m so glad you liked the post! I didn’t know Beaver recited the poem…but I can picture it, and I imagine it would be very sweet. I hope your walnut trees have good dryads, too!

  2. What beautiful poem Denise. One of the things I like most about seeing trees devoid of their leaves in the fall/winter is that you get to see all the amazing bird nests that are usually hidden by the leaves. Though not really part of the tree these bird nests remind us of the amazing synergy that occurs in nature.

    • I know what you mean! I love bird nests, too. I found an old one in one of our nesting boxes, and marveled at its intricate design and construction. It even had bits of human hair woven in. I’m fairly sure they were my own!

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