LISTENING TO TREES

By Alice Peck | Illustrations by Melissa Launay

We may not all be able to sit with a cottonwood, but we can listen for its voice.
Probably my favorite way to contemplate trees is to sit with the windows wide open on windy nights and marvel at the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind. Trees have voices that impart their star-like wisdom.

Editor’s Note: Trees give us so much: shade, solitude, medicine, nourishment, oxygen. They improve our air, remove harmful gases, stabilize soil and shelter wildlife. Their roots filter waterways and reduce erosion and runoff. Their trunks give us wood. They ask for little in return.
Author Alice Peck invites us on a spiritual journey as she examines the many benefits of trees in her book, Be More Tree. Artist Melissa Launay takes us on a visual feast with her beautiful illustrations of trees. Here are excerpts from Be More Tree. All the featured trees grow in Colorado, so take a moment to pause and absorb the wonders of these magnificent beings we share the planet with.

Alice Peck is an author and editor who thinks and writes about finding the sacred in the ordinary. Find out more at AlicePeck.com.
Melissa Launay has a master’s degree in fine art from the University of Seville. She’s illustrated several books for American and British publishers. Find out more at MelissaLaunay.com.
Be More Tree is published by CICO Books and is available online at RylandPeters.com or at local booksellers.

Go on a journey of wisdom, healing and renewal with author Alice Peck

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

TREES IN PERPETUITY

If you’re hoping your great-grandchildren will have clean air to breathe, tend a tree! Make sure it is watered, pick up any trash nearby, perhaps build a little fence around it to protect it from dogs. As you do so, recite this passage from the Mohawk version of the Thanksgiving Address:
“We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty, and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life. Now our minds are one.”

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE

The chestnut tree’s wisdom is in reminding us of the impermanence of seemingly permanent things. Take a moment to pause and think about the chestnut—so enduring and powerful, yet fragile. Apply those thoughts to people we take for granted in our lives, whom we assume will always be there, and then pause to appreciate what we have.

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

TRANSIENT BEINGS

It is easy to see why trees filled with blossom-like clouds symbolize the ephemeral nature of life. Find a cherry tree in winter. Sit under it if it’s not too cold, or take a photograph, draw a picture, and consider what has vanished and yet will return—the leaves, the blossoms and the fruit.

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

LARCH ENERGY

To study Qigong is to study the postures (including “Standing Like a Tree”) passed down from master to teacher since the fifth century BCE, when Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching or “The Book of the Way,” the primary text of Taoism. We can take a step on that path by following this simple suggestion from Robert Peng: “As you walk in the forest you can become aware of the trees, absorb their energy, and be nourished by the Tree Qi.” Apply this to the larch—its vital golden light in autumn, the mystery of the conifer that drops leaves and sprouts new ones, and its power to heal us both physically and spiritually.

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

THE SELF AND SELFLESSNESS

The oak imparts wisdom about the self and selflessness. Take responsibility for our actions, own and know ourselves, and remember that even after we’re gone, the acorns we planted will have grown into oaks.

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Illustration by Melissa Launay

“ONLY CONNECT!”

The aspen gives us an opportunity to acknowledge our interdependence with everything on the planet. Like the clonal aspen, all human community is interconnected. We can meditate on the aspen to acknowledge what we can let go of in our lives and what we can allow to sprout and bloom, to nourish and provide fresh paths. As E.M. Forster wrote in Howards End, “Only connect!”