Trees: The Alternative Cathedral
May 05, 2013

3 minute read


Contact with nature confers a gift of presence. I try to open up to it rather than pursue distracting thoughts or emotions. As an urban dweller, walking in a park fills me with a sense of my roots in the natural world. Seashore, mountains, meadows, woods and desert all invite us to discover our own nature in theirs, to meet their presence with our own. So whenever I feel too far from my deepest wish, off-balance, shaken by the blows of life or mired in the inertia of not caring, I seek contact with nature--a primary source of re-centering.

Each of us responds more deeply to one or another great natural scene, depending perhaps on where we received our earliest impressions. At this time in my life, the deepest call comes to me from trees, their triumphant upness as well as their deep-rootedness in the ground. When I’m under trees, I’m back where I belong. For all I know, this place is unreachable by any conscious effort I could make. But dwarfed by great trunks and shaded by spreading branches, I no longer clutch at the past or hurry to keep up with today’s duties. I am right here.

After a couple of hours working at my computer, I like to unleash my energy in the park. As I walk the familiar path, I may be brought to a standstill, silenced by the power of the trees towering on either side of me. In winter, my eyes follow the strength of their hefty branches, which break out into smaller and smaller branches and twigs, articulated against the sky. They remind me of the veins and stems of the myriad leaves to come and of my own veins and arteries, and my whole system is invigorated.

When I asked David Wagoner about his extraordinarily evocative poem, he told me it was inspired by a time he was lost in the woods. It’s clear that the experience of the presence of the trees brought him back to his own presence and quieted his fear. Such an adventure puts our fear of the unknown into a different perspective. We, also, are unknown.

In the park, I’m reminded that all of life is in movement. Squirrels jump, bees and butterflies explore the flowers. Trees pour their energy upward into swaying branches and grip deep down into the earth. I hear a bird call. I’m all too often unaware of all that lives around me until I’m in a transformative place where I can become one with nature and my own inner nature -- without fear, without pressure. Something deep within me relaxes. Bending down to pull unwanted weeds from a neglected garden on the esplanade by the river, I feel whatever clutches me let go.

Even on grimy city streets, which I walk a lot, scruffy trees send a delicate message. They remind me both of my nature and their great gift to our planet, purifying the air we breathe.  I climb up the subway stairs on my way home, tired and hungry, my mind still wrapped around my day’s activities. Then I focus on a tree I’m walking toward, consciously breathing in its freshness, and exhaling my anxieties and fatigue.


Reprinted with permission. Patty de Llosa is the author of The Practice of Presence: Five Paths for Daily Life and Taming Your Inner Tyrant: A path to healing through dialogues with oneself.

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