“There are two trees that have changed my life” begins a visual essay by Maira Kalman in the New Yorker. Two trees that transformed her, in a way that the many trees she adores have not. About the first, she recalls, “I am eight years old or so, sitting in the tree in the park and reading ‘Pippi Longstocking’.” The sight of the second, she remembers, “took my breath away”.
She is of course not alone. The Guardian’s Tree of the Week series features readers’ “leafy wonders that make their world a better place”, and the stories behind them. It is there we found photographs of a Yew in a churchyard in Wales, with a a chair inside it, along with a vase of flowers.
It is a favorite tree of Ieuan Morris, a film history lecturer who has traveled Great Britain photographing trees. He returned several times to sit inside the tree…
It was a surprisingly affecting experience. It was like sitting inside the belly of a large creature which, in a sense, is what I was doing.
….The tree has opened itself up, allowing humans to interact with it in a very intimate way, and it will be here for many years to come.
The possibility of interacting so closely that is one of the things that is so compelling about trees with rooms: to sit inside one, protected, as though in its very heart. Could any place feel safer?
Judy Dench describes the experience of being inside a 1500 year old Yew in this video (we also enjoy it with the sound off…to imagine being in that ancient tree…)
For decades, one of my favorite books has been My Side of the Mountain, a young adult novel about a teenage boy who forges a cozy home in a hallowed-out hemlock trunk in the Catskills and lives perfectly well by his wits.
But roomless trees afford similar intimacy and connection, which, I realized I felt as a child during my many hours perched in the horse chestnut in our backyard. And recently, when I found that the muscular roots at the base of my favorite tree in my local park makes for a kind of ground seat where I can comfortably rest my back against the trunk and feel held by those root arms.
And of course, trees can become secret rooms just by the embrace of their branches.
Poet Jo Shapcott nailed the feeling in her poem “I Go Inside the Tree”. (Her reading of it is beautiful)…
Indoors for this ash
is through the bark:
notice its colour – asphalt
or slate in the rain
then go inside, tasting
weather in the tree rings,
scoffing years of drought and storm,
moving as fast as a woodworm
who finds a kick of speed
for burrowing into the core,
for mouthing pith and sap,
until the o my god at the heart.
…until the o my god at the heart.
Maira Kalman’s painting excerpted from Trees, a limited edition booklet the proceeds of which will be donated to organizations working to bring out the vote.