It’s just a tree.
I found myself standing staring at it standing back at me. It wasn’t staring back; it’s just a tree. Maybe inviting, beckoning even, but staring, no.
It’s hard to say what it was beckoning me to do. It was hard to say how or why, but for a different reason. I don’t know the how or why, but what it asked, that was difficult to admit.
Trees always ask things of us. Maples offer rest, willows relaxation. Birch and cedar invite you to wonder what they might become; redwood what has once been. Palms and pines speak of holidays; oak is a quiet tendril of smoke on a brisk winter evening. This one asked something else.
It was just a tree. It didn’t have leaves like a maple; it had leaves like a tree. The bark was very tree-like, distinguished only by being indistinguishable. It bore as much similarity to a child’s drawing of a forest as it did to any species. The most you could say - all you could say - it’s just a tree.
It wanted a hug.
Of course I know that’s ridiculous. Trees don’t want hugs. This tree did. Not that a hug was going to be easy. It’s surrounded by bramble and briar so thick you’d be hard pressed to press anywhere near it. You’d be lucky to make it out with your life.
I did though. I made it out. I assume I made it in judging by the tears and tears in my shirt.
I found myself walking away. When I first found myself I discovered the tree. This time I discovered myself. A hug can do that. You might go into a hug thinking it’s for the tree; in the end it’s all about me.
I remember thinking that just a moment ago. Just a moment ago was all about me. This moment must be too. I have my arms wrapped around another tree. This tree is just a tree, but nothing like the last tree. Where there were brambles here is bare. Where the first was rough this is worn and smooth and defenseless.
I could feel the trunk through the holes in my clothes. It felt warm. Its branches as barren as the rest, beat by the sun’s wrath mercilessly day after day. But this warmth was energy and solace and strength to me. The sun had drained this tree of its life and restored mine.
All about me. It was all about me. As I walked away a second time, even the lingering hand drug across its lowest branch was all about me. The lapping of the lake as I found myself walking along a deserted beach was all about me. The water spoke but asked nothing, repeating an endless rhyme to the rhythm of a gentle breeze blowing exactly my way. Even the breeze was all about me.
I found myself lying on the beach, laying arm in… well, arm around a large piece of driftwood, lovers locked in silent stillness, a lifeless embrace. It was less tree than shore; dumped together with vine and debris heaped in a shallow grave half buried in sand. Waves split their course tumbling over the protrusions of the hollow shell.
They pulled; every tug of the tide tried to reclaim its discarded prize and me - the anchor, the rock, safety in the storm. But for this tree security came too late; whatever I might have once offered was meaningless. What does life protect if not life? Only the memory of a past that never was and dreams of a future that cannot be.
I found myself alone on that beach, my arms empty, my body sandy and scarred, desperate for sense in the senseless. I found a tree, any tree, and choked the emptiness out of me. All about me, a tree too young, too small to bear this hug, the weight of my loss and pain. It bent. It broke.
Even as I left, I could feel it tight around my boot. Holding on not to keep me there, but to give everything of itself to its last branch. To give everything to me. All about me.
I found myself. I didn’t find something I wanted to find - something worth finding. I found something more empty than the flotsam on the beach, more fragile than the latest tree - abused, used up, and discarded. Like the first, my walls are built to keep away the things I most fear and most desire. Drained by my days under the sun, I too am exposed by the inadequacy of my defenses to any of my true threats - time, loss, pain, fear.
I found myself. No, this time something else found me. This tree found me. I’m not wrapped around it. I’m on my knees, bloody and broken. I want to look up, to look at it. I can’t lift my head off the ground.
This tree found me. Branches outstretched, this tree offers a hug I cannot return; I cannot have and hold… only cling to. This tree asks as well, it beckons, more than that, it calls. A call, a whisper, to give up a life all about me for one all about this tree, all about the hug. To live a life not chasing hugs, but giving them. Even less, to simply offer.
I am just a tree. Arms outstretched, offering a hug I never deserved to passersby equally undeserving. I stand here, not staring. Inviting. Beckoning.
The hug I want is for you. Not that you would hug me but this tree.