Have you ever looked at something that was very old? Could you feel its antiquity? Did it move you?
Nature does that to me.
I was camping, looking out across the lake, when I felt the age of the surrounding forest.
It sounds strange to say that aloud.
I felt the age of the forest.
About 10 feet from me was an old growth oak tree. I’m not certain how old it was, but I think 200 years is a fair guess.
Its trunk was gray, and rose out of the ground 12 feet before it began to branch. It would take at least two, if not three, adults to wrap their arms around it. As the deep roots dug into the hard clay soil, the mighty gnarled branches stretched upward towards the sky.
Awe is the feeling that came over me.
As this awe began to fill me, thoughts flooded into my mind about all the changes this tree had seen.
200 years ago, as a sapling, this forest was inhabited by a totally different people. The miwok people of the western sierras lived here. They would have seen this tree as a giver of life. The acorns produced by these beautiful oaks were the main staple for the natives. This tree would have fed them.
I could see them in my mind. Gently, and patiently living intimately with the land. The fish and fowl would have been food and friend. Their small bark huts, and grinding stones dotted the land as they lived, laughed and loved.
Certainly they encountered tragedy and disappointment as we do today. Some died too young and some died too old. Pain and heartache would have visited them as they rested under the branches of this soon-to-be-mighty oak.
But like all of us, they would have carried on, hopeful for better days.
Their shadows faded from view as the sound of gun fire and gold fever filled my head. The forty-niners walked these lands. Their relationship was much different. They were takers. They took the trees down by the hundreds as they built towns and forts and mine shafts. The sound of dynamite boomed through the air as hungry and desperate miners sought the great veins of gold.
They, too, may have rested in the shade of this oak. Perhaps, it was too small, or not straight enough to be chopped down and made into something useful. They may have even eaten the acorns as they learned to prepare them properly from the miwok people.
During all this time, this oak grew slowly and tenderly. It provided shelter and food to squirrels, and ants, and bees. Mighty ravens and majestic eagles may have built nests in its boughs.
It simply was, and that lesson is mighty enough.
My thoughts turned from the gold rush, to the years following. Settlers continued to move into California as news spread of lush farm lands, and the fertile soil of the valley. Tens would turn into hundreds which became thousands as pioneers, prospectors, and dreamers moved west.
Some would stop by the river that fed this oak. Thousands would continue on down into the valley, but some would stay. Slowly these mining towns would become full-blown communities with churches, and stores, and neighborhoods.
All the while, this oak would grow older, wiser, and more majestic.
As a young man, I found comfort in trees. There was something stable, and consistent about them. A large jacaranda tree grows in my parents front yard. I would climb it often, and rest near the top and look out across the housetops of the neighborhood. I would meditate and pray as I worked through the grief of teenage years. Comfort and peace are what I think of when I remember those times.
My mind flashed forward to the present. The sounds of children laughing and running underneath this now old oak. Like an old grandfather, this oak stretches forth his branches to shade and protect the little ones. Quiet, majestic, present, the oak has changed but remains as it has always been.
Then a new thought struck me. As I looked at this oak, I saw in it a marriage between earth and sky. This mighty oak is their offspring.
Mother Earth would have held this seed in her body, her womb. Father sky would have watered the parched earth to make her fertile enough to give life to this little seedling. Nutrients would begin to flow into this tiniest of trees as it unfurled and reached back towards Father Sky. In return, Father Sky would allow light to diffuse across the land and create the miracle that is photosynthesis.
Without the life giving nutrients found by the roots of this tree or the golden rays of sunlight and rain clouds, it would have died. Miraculously, both were given in abundance and this giant was born and raised for centuries.
As my mind turned back to today, and my children running around me, I realized I was changed. Being in the presence of greatness changes you. It touches your soul, and you are never the same again.
I felt rooted and connected with my mother earth. I could see that I, too, was a child of nature.
These lessons are all around us. Awe, wisdom, understanding are written in the book of nature, waiting for us to sit down and read. But we must take the time, the effort, and the energy to allow this outpouring.
May peace and joy be upon you all.
Thanks for reading and sharing. If you’d like to continue the conversation leave a comment or email me at email@example.com.