The Poetry of Trees

by Melannie Svoboda SND on June 8, 2015

The poet Joyce Kilmer wrote: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.” Let’s take a few moments today to reflect on the wonder, beauty, and poetry of trees.

First, what is a tree? Botany defines a tree as “a perennial plant with an elongated stem or trunk supporting branches and leaves in most species.” Trees have been around for 370 million years. (In contrast, we lowly humans have been around for only 200,000 years!) The trunk of a tree contains woody tissue for strength and vascular tissue that carries materials from one part of the tree to another. Bark serves as a protective barrier. That’s why to carve LJ loves KD into the bark of a tree is a big “no no.” Beneath the ground, roots branch out widely to anchor the tree in place and enable the tree to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. I know, sometimes these roots invade our drain tiles, but remember, the tree is only looking for a drink.

An ordinary, extraordinary oak tree.

An extraordinary, ordinary oak tree.

Above ground the tree branches out into smaller and smaller shoots. These shoots sprout leaves which capture light from the sun and convert it into sugar through a process called photosynthesis. Sugar is the tree’s food. That’s right: Trees make their own food! Amazing! They never have to go to a grocery store! So vital is this process of photosynthesis to all life on earth, that my college biology teacher, Sister Hubert, used to say to us, “Now, ladies, I am here to tell you that love does not make the world go round. Photosynthesis does!”

Trees play a significant role on planet earth for other reasons too. They reduce erosion, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (and slow down global warming), provide habitat for animals and other plants, provide shade, shelter, and wood for construction, cooking, and heat. Little wonder that from ancient times people have revered trees for their longevity, beauty, and usefulness.

Most trees reproduce via seeds in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But the problem is, they have to get the seeds away from the shade of the

Seeds from a sugar maple with their papery wings, ready for flight.

Seeds from a sugar maple with their papery wings, ready for flight.

parent tree so the seeds have a chance to sprout and grow. And since trees can’t walk, they have devised ingenious ways to spread their seeds away from the parent tree. Some of their seeds have papery wings to aid in their dispersion by the wind. One tree, the flame tree, actually shoots its seeds when its seed pods explode in the heat. Other trees, such as apple and plum, encase their precious seeds in a fleshy and often tasty fruit. When this fruit is eaten by animals (including humans) the seeds are either discarded or they pass through the gut and are deposited away from the tree. Some trees sprout nuts which animals eat either immediately or store for later use. Lucky for trees, animals such as squirrels often forget where they’ve buried their nuts and, in time, these nuts can germinate. As you can tell, the chances of a particular seed becoming another tree are slim. Hence trees produce a huge number of seeds. A typical healthy oak, for example, produces 70,000 acorns a year!

Here I am kissing a redwood tree in Muir Woods National Monument in 1996. This was a dream come true for me!

Trees supply us with a wide variety of foods. The next time you indulge in or cook with any of these, be sure to thank the tree from which it came: apple, orange, mango, grapes, walnut, anything chocolate, olive oil, hazelnut coffee, vanilla anything, lemon, maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sassafras oil. About 120 medicinal drugs come from plants, many of them trees: quinine, aspirin, and some anti-cancer drugs. Other tree products include resin, latex, and camphor.

The following trees are exceptional. And they all reside in California. The tallest tree in the world is a giant redwood in California named Hyperion. It is 379 feet tall (115.6 meters). The tree that is the largest by volume is a sequoia named General Sherman. And the oldest living tree is a bristle pine cone tree. It is (drum roll please) 5,066 years old! Imagine, that tree was already well 3,000 years old when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee!

Do you notice trees? Do you ever talk to them or hug them? When I’m driving and spot a perfectly formed tree along the side of the road, I often say aloud, “Oh, you are sooo beautiful!” When I’m walking in the park, I often gently finger a tree’s bark. Do you have a favorite tree? In my book, When the Rain Speaks, I devote the first chapter to the huge ash tree that grew in our yard when I was a child. I wrote: “When I recall that ash tree, these images come effortlessly to mind: friend, playmate, confidant, shelter, sage, nanny, grandfather, and even God.”

The song I chose is a “The Tree Song,” a children’s song by Evie Karlsson. I hope you enjoy the song and the many pictures of incredible trees. Since the lyrics are not with the video, I’ve copied the chorus here:

I’ve got roots growing down to the water.

I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine.

And the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me.

I am shade from the hot summer sun-down.

I am nest for the birds of the heaven.

I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be,

A strong young tree.

 

Any thoughts?

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Milt Shlapak June 8, 2015 at 8:41 am

Enjoyed my first Sunflower Seed.

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IRENE June 8, 2015 at 10:04 am

In grade school we circled a maple tree after the noon lunch recess and sang Joyce Kilmer’s song. I still remember it and also I believed the tree kept some of its leaves through winter because we sang to it.

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Bernadette Oblander June 8, 2015 at 10:08 am

Sister Melannie funny you should write about trees because I just did some research on my own this week, I was amazed at the Cottonwoods how they spread their seeds in cottony masses, all those fluffs are falling like snow here in Berea, the creativity of our God never ceases to amaze me. Even though they can be annoying seedlings on your deck they are just doing their job. The other amazing thing I read about trees is that 90% of their roots are shallow only 18″ to 24″ below ground, I see this when one falls to the ground, huge trees on the ground after a storm with shallow roots, you wonder how they can stand up. Living along the metropark and using it often sometimes the trees scare me, I always say a prayer and ask them to please not fall, it’s a reminder to me that I can’t live in fear for I love the trees it’s where I meet God in all his Glory 🙂

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Josita June 8, 2015 at 10:32 am

Dear Melannie,
Thanks so much for this reflection…I love trees, as well.
Dear Melannie, thanks so much for this beautiful reflection. I too, love trees.
Not too long ago I learned that the Redwood tree, as tall and strong as it is, has very shallow roots. How do they survive and remain strong? Their roots intertwine with each other and give each other support……that amazes me and is a good lesson for our life in community..be it religious, family or the workplace. We need each other to be who we are and remain strong and alive. The Redwood also never dies. Sprouts spring out from
the remaining bark and continue to grow. There is always new life.
Thanks again for bringing this to mind. Josita

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Lois Siemens June 8, 2015 at 10:40 am

A book I recently took out of the library and immediately loved is Beth Moon’s “Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time.” She photographs ancient trees all over the world. The essays give more information and background on how and when she decided to photograph each tree.

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Mary Schneider June 8, 2015 at 10:45 am

St Melannie: I forwarded this to my daughter and her children in NY. Raised in Nevada we did not see many of these beautiful trees, surrounded instead by Sagebrush and Pinion Pine. We did have a forest of Bristlecone Pines, most of them in Great Basin National park near our town. I want my grandchildren to see and better understand God’s great gift of trees to all of us. Thank you for this one!!

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Kathleen June 8, 2015 at 11:17 am

Love the song Sr. Melanie! Good to notice trees and say a little prayer of thanks. Good reminder.

Kathleen

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Marietta Wethington,OSU June 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, Melanie,
I love this reflection. I grew up with a yard filled with trees. One of my favorites was a huge oak from which hung a rope swing that our dad made for us. We loved that big oak tree and the swing brought countless hours of fun.
The tree no longer exists but each time one of my siblings dies my brother, who now owns the farm, plants a tree in the yard in his or her memory.

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Karen June 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Yes, I do touch trees as I walk by them – I feel it connects me with something TRUE and SOLID and EARTHLY. I was also going to say SIMPLE, but as you point out, there’s a lot going on in there! And I have to send a “hallelujah” out that my Dogwood tree has finally blossomed this year, six years after it was planted. I guess it was just waiting for the right moment. Thank you Sr Melanie!

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Annie June 8, 2015 at 4:28 pm

I think trees are a gift! Thank you for your reflection and the tree song! I’m also glad I’m not the only one who kisses trees!

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Cathy Baier June 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm

I love trees…..the screensaver on my computer is a picture of a tree lined path. Being in a park full of trees brings me close to God, being in the presence of trees lifting their arms heavenward.

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Cathy June 8, 2015 at 8:52 pm

The phrase in the song about “becoming what the Lord has meant me to be” resonates with me. Often when I am at adoration I look at the candles and the flowers that surround the altar and think of how they praise God just by being what they are meant to be. That’s a lesson for me. Thanks for the beautiful meditation.

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Dorothy June 8, 2015 at 8:58 pm

Sister Melannie,
I sang “I Think that I Shall Never See, A Poem as Lovely as a Tree” in my Glee Club at my High School. This brought back memories. Both of these songs are so beautiful & make us think of how God can only make a tree.

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Celeste Albers, OP June 9, 2015 at 6:46 pm

When I was teaching primary children, we would sing Cary Landry’s song,”His Banner Over Me is Love”. My sister lived on a street that had huge trees covering the street and into her yard. I would take her three little girls and we would sing that song as we sang and prayed that like that huge tree, God’s banner of love is truly providing lots of love and shade for us. That is a powerful memory of my first years in religious life as I taught God’s little ones.

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JoAnn Welch June 10, 2015 at 7:51 am

Nice!!!

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Joan Campagna June 14, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Thanks for this reflection-I have fallen in love with palm trees and have started a few from seed. How amazing a small seed can grow into a Royal Palm! Totally miraculous.

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Deb June 19, 2015 at 7:24 am

Sr Melannie,
I love the trees of spring. They remind me of new birth, that good is blossoming before my eyes while watching the new buds of leaves growing day by day, especially after a rainfall. Yet, I love the trees of summer. I have sat on my front porch and watched the huge trees a block away dance in the wind, the branches being tossed from one direction to the other, leaves shining a bright green and then a dull shade as they are turned over. I almost feel like the tree dances for joy because it knows that I am watching. Yet again, I love the trees of autumn, the many colors that transform right before my eyes. The beauty takes my breath away at times. As my mother told me her frustrations of her memory not working, I told her of the season of the trees, how very beautiful they are in right now, just as she is in another season in her life, she is more beautiful right now. Yet, once again, I love the trees of winter. I gaze through the bare branches up to the sky, which defines every twist of every branch. They seem to beckon me to look and listen. One of my favorite trees as been at the park I walk around for a great number years. It was only this past winter that I truly saw it as for the first time. One of the main big branches is bent over, almost telling me of the hard year it had as it grew. It spoke to me of my hard years, how I have been and felt bent over. The amazing thing I realized in that awakening moment is the small branches growing off this bent branch, they were all reaching upward, appearing to praise God in the midst of turmoil. It reminded me that even when I am down and bent over, I am to look upward and praise God. Now I do notice this tree daily as I walk, almost like a friend saying hello. As you can tell, I do love trees.

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Susan June 19, 2015 at 8:05 am

Thank you for this beautiful and informative post. I just read your sharing in “Living Faith” which brought me to this blog.

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Kathleen, NDC '76 June 26, 2015 at 10:22 am

Sister Melannie,
This is my first time on your website. As your former student in many college English classes, I was delighted to discover so many of your articles. I didn’t know where to begin! The trees drew me in first. Since I was a little girl, I have always felt a certain grace emanating from these masterful works of Our Creator. When my father needed me to become his legal guardian, and the many difficult decisions seemed beyond my abilities, I went into my back yard, wrapped my arms around a large trunk, and begged God to give me the strength of that tree. The Lord did provide!

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